Cluster of fireballs lights up sky over New Brunswick

A handful of people reported seeing fireballs blaze across the sky in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine on Sunday evening. (Submitted by Shawn Amos - image credit)
A handful of people reported seeing fireballs blaze across the sky in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine on Sunday evening. (Submitted by Shawn Amos - image credit)

A rare spectacle was in store for some New Brunswickers who turned their gaze to the sky last night.

At about 6 p.m., residents from Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia reported seeing a cluster of fireballs blazing across the evening sky.

They included Shawn Amos, who was able to get his cellphone out in time to capture a 30-second clip of it from his backyard in Fredericton.

"I'd be lying if I didn't have the notion of like, 'Well, is this it?'" Amos said, speaking to CBC News on Monday.

"So like any ding-dong today, I pulled out my cellphone and decided to document it, and thankfully it passed overhead and you could kind of see the tails of whatever it was burning off as it passed overhead, just sort of travelling from the south."

The celestial spectacle is just the latest to catch the attention of a terrestrial audience.

On early Saturday morning, a meteor lit up the sky over southern Ontario before making impact somewhere in the Niagara Falls area. According to the European Space Agency, the meteorite measured about a metre in diameter.

The Leonid meteor shower — which typically happens in November — also created a natural light show over the weekend for those looking up.

Likely of earthly origin

But unlike those phenomena, the one observed over New Brunswick appears to have a more earthly origin, according to Chris Curwin, an amateur astronomer and member of the Saint John Astronomy Club.

"So a number [of people] thought it might have been the Leonids meteor shower, which is something that was peaking just this past weekend but … the object was probably quite fast — too fast to actually be a meteor, and too large as well," Curwin said.

Submitted by Paul Owen
Submitted by Paul Owen

Curwin said he didn't see the cluster of fireballs himself but has reviewed videos sent to the Facebook page he runs, called Astronomy by the Bay.

Based on the appearance of it, along with information available online, he said the cluster of fireballs might have been the remains of a rocket re-entering Earth's atmosphere.

The online information comes from aerospace.org, which presents data from the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies.

That data tries to predict when equipment launched into space might fall back to Earth.

One of their predictions called for a rocket body re-entering Earth's atmosphere at about 6:10 p.m. Sunday.

Rocket Lab
Rocket Lab

The equipment was part of a mission by a company called Rocket Lab, which launched a rocket from New Zealand's Māhia Peninsula on Nov. 4.

The rocket body's potential re-entry track passed directly over New Brunswick, according to a map by aerospace.org.

"It's a chance that that might have been it … but there's no way to definitely say that's what it was," Curwin said.

Rocket Lab did not respond to a request about whether the rocket it launched was connected to the sightings reported in New Brunswick.

The American Meteor Society tracks reports of fireball sightings across the world, and its website shows six people reported seeing a fireball at about 6 p.m. Atlantic time in New Brunswick, Maine, and Nova Scotia.

Curwin said he hasn't heard any reports of impacts on the ground related to the fireball.

"I think we would have known about it by now, but a lot of our country is remote too, and 70 per cent of the planet is covered with ocean," he said.

"So, you know, this happens all the time, it's just that we don't get to see it all the time."