Early risers spot a meteor crossing the morning sky

Early risers Thursday morning may have spotted a spectacular fireball seen from Missoula north of Calgary at 6:26 a.m.

The meteor produced what many on Facebook described as an “explosion in the sky” as it moved from southwest to northeast, resulting in dozens of reported sightings.

According to Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office (MEO), the meteor was first detected by NASA 52 miles above Ford, a small community in Beaverhead County, moving nearly due north. at 47,000 miles per hour. The meteor traveled 75 miles through the upper atmosphere before crashing 47 miles above the Flathead Mountain Range on the border of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.

The event was bright enough that three National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES satellites recorded the meteor with their lightning detection instruments.

While radar operators from NORAD, Malmstrom Air Force Base and the National Weather Service say their radar missed the identified flying object, they all pointed out that the incident may have happened too quickly to be known. recorded by their equipment.

Local reports of the fireball came from Lakeside and Somers in Kalispell, Whitefish and Kila while other sightings were reported in Big Arm, Polson and Libby.

The American Meteor Society received 13 fireball reports from Montana, Idaho and Washington as well as British Columbia and Alberta.

Reports ranged from as far south as Lolo, Montana to Calgary and Golden Alberta, Canada to the north. Sightings have popped up in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane and as far west as Fernadale, Washington and Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada.

According to Whitefish’s Jack Fairchild, the meteor filled the dark early morning sky like daylight.

“I was walking around the neighborhood in the dark and the street just lit up with white light,” he said. “I was startled, so I looked up to the north and in the sky the meteor was still spinning. I could see six or seven inches of tail and the meteor was shining like a just-lit match. It was from by far the biggest, brightest meteor I’ve ever seen. It lit up the whole neighborhood.”

Chris Woody was working when he saw the sky light up.

“I was at work driving through the Iron Horse subdivisions when I saw a shooting star and thought that was pretty cool because it was the first time I had seen one. About ten minutes later I’m still driving and then out of nowhere the sky flashes green then back to normal a second later,” he said. I was shaking because I didn’t know what it was. was and I was waiting for some kind of reaction afterwards but nothing came.

Brodie Verworn was traveling to Libby when he witnessed the meteor.

“I was in Smith Valley and night turned to day for a second and then it was over,” he said.

While NASA scientists estimate that up to 25 million meteors hit the atmosphere every day and 48.5 tons of meteorite material fall to Earth every 24 hours, most are no bigger than grains. sand.

As for the size of Thursday’s meteor, Cooke says it’s hard to determine.

“It’s hard to estimate the size of these things. It’s probably on the order of a foot in diameter. We just don’t have enough data right now to be sure,” he said. “It doesn’t take anything very large to produce a wide streak of light across the sky when moving at 47,000 miles per hour.”

With the night sky currently filled with meteors from four active meteor showers, the Orionids, Southern and Northern Taurids and Leonids, Cooke is confident that Thursday’s fireball did not emanate from any of them. between them.

“It was way too slow to be a Leonid. It was what we call a sporadic or background meteor that was not associated with any meteor shower,” he said. “Leonid meteors travel to about 170,000 miles per hour and this pup was pretty slow compared to that.”

The debris left behind by comets that cause meteor showers is usually very small and hits Earth’s atmosphere at speeds between seven and 44 miles per second.

Most meteors occur in Earth’s mesosphere, about 31 to 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, and can appear in different colors, depending on the chemical makeup of the space rock and the air that’s in the air. she crosses. A high iron meteor, for example, will appear yellow. A high calcium meteor may appear as a streak of purple light.

The light from a meteor passing through the atmosphere is called a contrail and usually lasts only a fraction of a second while the smoke-like gases left behind, called trains, can be visible for up to 30 minutes in certain cases.

Any meteor brighter than Venus, like the one on Thursday, is classified as a fireball.

According to Cooke, fireballs of this size are seen on earth several times a day, but are still a spectacular sight.

“For Earth, this kind of event is not uncommon at all,” he said. “For northwest Montana, it’s a little less common.”

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