Derby and District Astronomical Society

Bright Fireball Observed - Saturday, 4th March 2012

Reports from a couple of DDAS members

Rob SeymourFrom Robert Seymour...

I was travelling on a train between Blythe and Uttoxeter, out in the sticks so to speak, where there is little or no light pollution, and my eyes were nicely dark adapted (for example on a good moonless night I can see the Double Cluster in Perseus visually unaided). Venus and Jupiter had also both looked spectacular earlier on.

About a minute before I saw the fireball, I had been travelling south, but I had turned due east on the approach to Uttoxeter, with a clear view to the north. I spotted the fireball at 21:41 hrs, coming in from a northerly direction (probably north-north-west I reckon). I was amazed at what I saw. It looked like a giant ball of fire, about the size of the moon overhead, literally glowing orange. It seemed to be coming right at me, but probably from around the 11 o'clock position if you imagine a clock face. Anthony Southwell states he estimated it's magnitude to be -4.5 (i.e. like Venus), but it was much, much brighter than that. At least -10 I'd say. Maybe this seemed brighter to me than it actually was, due to my dark adapted eyes. I don't know.

I watched it closely, scarcely believing my eyes. As it was coming in head-on, so to speak, it didn't seem to be moving too quickly. Here's where I made my mistake - I thought as it wasn't going too fast, I'd grab my iPhone and try and image or film it. Unfortunately by the time I got my phone, it had passed overhead and gone out of sight. I assumed that when I first spotted it, it must have been over northern England. The reality was, I'm sure, that it was travelling really quickly. I never detected a train or trail, nor saw it break up, or heard anything in the sky, as I was in a train which drowned out any noise etc.

But I was privileged to see something I'll never forget....5-10 seconds worth of a huge fireball or bolide meteor burning up in the Earth's atmosphere, coming right towards me head-on. As a seasoned observer, I have seen plenty of meteors, including a really bright one, where I even managed to detect a black smoke trail with my binoculars from its ion trail. That was pretty spectacular at the time. This one however on Saturday night was something entirely different. It was literally like something out of a Hollywood disaster movie. Truly for me, a once in a lifetime event, and something I was really lucky & privileged to see.

I must confess, I was buzzing for the rest of the night. I was even concerned at the time that it may have hit somewhere, and caused widespread damage 'Tunguska’ style!!!

I've reported it to a couple of meteor sites, but I've not heard anything yet. I filed a report on Stargazers Lounge as well, and it seems that a lot of others saw it too. I've also seen the various YouTube video's that are circulating the web. I just regret not being able to image it myself... :-(

I've not heard any reports about any meteorite finds anywhere. Maybe a few will turn up, you never know. Perhaps Graham Ensor [another DDAS member and meteorite collector] will get hold of something!!! Assuming it didn't end up in the ocean! All for now and here's to the next fireball! Can't wait to see another one!!

Anthony SouthwellFrom Anthony Southwell...

I was sitting at laptop in my front room, the curtains were open, and I was facing the window. At about 9:39 pm I just happened to look up from my laptop screen and look out the front room windows and got the shock of my life. I noticed a rather bright light in the sky. At first I thought it was an aircraft's forward lights, as it appeared to be a point source of light, but it seemed to be going a little bit too fast for a plane. The object then elongated and started to show a tail! At that point I immediately thought 'Meteor'!

As it moved across the sky, I only saw it for about 5 seconds, it displayed a fine trail, which included what looked like fragments, that were breaking off from the main body of the object. It was orange in colour, I could not see any stars, so I could not estimate an approximate location in the sky for it, due to street lights. But I could see it as it passed over the rooftop of the building on the other side on the street, so I estimated that the meteor was about 55 degrees above the horizon. My front room is north-facing, and this object was coming slightly towards me, so it was heading south, but not quite due south.

If south is at 12 o'clock, then the object was about at three of four minutes past the hour, so it was heading south to south-east. I tried to estimate its brightness, but I could only do that approximately, due to the surrounding street lights. I came up with a brightness estimate of magnitude -4.5.

I only observed it for 5 seconds before it burnt up and faded away. I was absolutely shocked and amazed to have been fortunate enough to have seen this event. I immediately got on the phone and called Dave Selfe, who was about to retire to bed when I called him. He was considering going out to do some observing in his garden that night, but decided against it, so he did not see it. I then telephoned Mike Dumelow to ask if he had seen anything from Coalville and also if he could pass this observation on to Graham Ensor, to ascertain if he had seen it and had heard of any reports of this event. Mike had not seen the meteor either! He'd been out to do a little bit of observing, but he was back in the house when the meteor appeared in the Sky.

I received an e-mail from Graham Ensor this morning saying that he had not seen it (and he was very jealous!), but he also sent me a couple of web address for me to access to submit an observation report to. I have submitted my report to the The Society for Popular Astronomy, in the meteor reporting section of their website.

I had a thought last night regarding the probabilities of any fragments of the meteor making landfall in this country, but I came to the conclusion that any fragments may well have ended up in the English Channel.

The first reports regarding the meteor were from the BBC News Channel at around midnight, with viewer videos and reports. Police stations across the UK received a huge amount of calls regarding this object in the Sky. Some people mistook the object for a plane on fire at altitude. Others were concerned that the Earth may be in danger from this object - I had to smile at that report.

This meteor was observed from Scotland to the South of England, in addition there were reports from Wales regarding this object. Most of the UK would have seen this object. I feel very fortunate indeed to have witnessed this event, if I had not looked up from my laptop and looked out my front room window when I did, I would have missed the best meteor event this country has seen for the past 30 years. This makes up for all the clouded-out meteor showers and all the other meteors I've missed by looking in the opposite direction! This time I was in the right place at the right time! Wow! What a sight! I feel so very lucky.

For a report on this fireball from the BBC News website click here...