Fire in the sky: Bright meteor flares above northern Alberta

Scott Sutherland

A bright fireball lit up the blackness of night in northern Alberta last Saturday, and was captured on video by the dashboard cam of a patrolling RCMP cruiser.

The nine-second video only shows the incredibly bright meteor, also called a 'bolide', after it overtakes the cruiser, so we don't get the full effect. However, we're still treated to the spectacular sight of it shining like a new sun in the sky before it finally winks out.

Constable Josh Stachow, who was driving the cruiser on a call near Manning, Alberta, told the Edmonton Journal: "I've seen shooting stars, but I've never seen anything like that before. It probably won’t happen again in my life, so I'm just happy I got to be part of it."

It's estimated that several thousand of these bright fireballs and bolides blaze through the Earth's sky every day, however many of them aren't seen because they happen during the day, when the sun's light masks them, or they burn up over the oceans or very remote areas of land where there's no one to witness them. Typical meteors that streak across the sky are caused by tiny specks of dust and ice, but the object that created this fireball could have been anywhere from the size of a pebble up to over a metre wide. These larger chunks of space rock don't always completely burn up, either. When the fireball winks out, it's usually because the rock has slowed down enough to stop heating up the air in front of it, and it drops out of the sky to become a meteorite.

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It's a rare treat to capture one of these events on video. Many times, they are witnessed by thousands, even millions of people, but they happen so quickly that it's impossible to catch images or video of them. When they are caught, like in this case and the fireball that burned up over northern Argentina back in April, it's completely by chance.

The meteorite that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia is probably the most documented event of this type, due to the number of dashboard cams being used in the area to fight insurance fraud.

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