Witnesses 'awestruck' by fireball seen flashing across night sky

·3 min read
If this fireball survived to hit the earth's surface, it likely landed somewhere between Ottawa and Montreal, according to computer modelling done by the International Meteor Organization. (YouTube screen capture - image credit)
If this fireball survived to hit the earth's surface, it likely landed somewhere between Ottawa and Montreal, according to computer modelling done by the International Meteor Organization. (YouTube screen capture - image credit)

A slow-moving meteor treated stargazers in eastern Ontario to a colourful display and an audible boom as it shot across the night sky on Friday.

Reports flooded social media of a bright green or blue object trailing a long red tail against a clear sky around 10:30 p.m. on Friday. Witnesses in Ottawa also reported hearing a boom around one minute after the object appeared to split into pieces.

Kanata resident Da Kim said he caught a glimpse through his open window.

"A little bright green flash appeared out of nowhere and it was flashing multiple times and little fragments of this fireball was falling out of the sky," said Kim.

"You always see pictures or videos or movies about comets, meteors and star showers, but seeing it in person was better than seeing it in HD or 4K."

Philip Thompson was walking in Aylmer, Que., and said he heard a boom around a minute after the meteor passed overhead.

"It was kind of like a faint rumble. Kind of like thunder," he said. "I've seen a few shooting stars but nothing that huge ... I was just kind of awestruck."

WATCH: Video of the fireball shared by the American Meteorological Society (Credit: Sam Berrada)

Almost 50 reported sightings

The fireball, a conversational term for an especially bright meteor, was spotted by several people in a region extending from Toronto to Quebec City, according to the International Meteor Organization (IMO). It was caught on camera at least twice, including in a video recorded by a doorbell camera in Nepean.

"The videos distinctly show a slow-moving meteor that was fragmenting as it entered the atmosphere," said Robert Lunsford, secretary general of the IMO.

Lunsford said the meteor's slow velocity and large size mean it's possible a small fragment may have survived its trip through the Earth's atmosphere and reached the ground intact.

"If it does create a delayed sonic boom, then there's a possibility it could have reached the ground," he said.

WATCH: YouTube video of the meteor recorded by a doorbell camera in Nepean

The organization had received 43 reports of the event by Saturday afternoon.

A single event can sometimes generate as many as 500 reports. Because the IMO relies on computer modelling using information from reported sightings to estimate the location of a potential impact site, its prediction should improve as more reports come in.

With the information currently available, Lunsford guesses the meteor would have landed somewhere between Ottawa and Montreal if it did indeed reach the earth's surface.

"The problem is the actual area where it could have landed could be 50 km across. Good luck finding a small stone in an area like that," he said.

'Boom' likely caused by meteor breakup

Meteors can range in size from a grain of dust to a boulder or much larger. The bigger a meteor is when it hits the atmosphere, the better its chances of reaching the ground and becoming a 'meteorite.'

But even a large meteor that's several metres across will likely be reduced to mere centimetres if it reaches the Earth's surface.

This meteor's bright tail may indicate it was a relatively large object because bigger meteors produce more of the colourful, super-heated air that witnesses reported seeing, said Phil Groff, executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Submitted by Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.com
Submitted by Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.com

Groff said he doubts this meteor will have survived, however, and the noise witnesses heard was likely caused by the rock breaking into pieces.

"The fact that it's broken apart means you've got lots of little pieces that are burning up in the atmosphere," he said. "And thus it becomes less likely that something makes it as far as the ground."

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