The Wenatchee World
Tue, 14 Aug 2012 15:20 CDT
Flaming meteor? Disintegrating satellite? Plunging plane? Crashing comet? Here's the one thing known for sure about the huge fireball that on Aug. 7 zoomed across North Central Washington's night sky: a lot of people saw it.
"You can bet thousands of folks witnessed the event," said lifelong sky watcher Tom Forker, who saw the blazing ball from his home in Winthrop. "I've seen reports on it from around the Northwest."
Following a Wenatchee World story last weekend, dozens of local observers posted online their gee-whiz accounts of the bright, fiery object. Most reported it whooshed west to east around 10 p.m., with many describing flames, sparks and a comet-like tail flashing a kaleidescope of colors.
Many observers, in locations stretching from the Cascade crest east to Libby, Mont., also noted on sky-watch websites that the fireball was the largest night-sky object they'd ever seen.
"A lot of people said they'd never experienced anything like it," said Forker, who wrote on the American Meteor Society's website: "It's the brightest fireball I have seen in many years."
California-based Robert Lunsford, a boardmember of the AMS, said in an email that he's convinced the object, seen across four states, was an extra-large, meteoric fireball.
Evidence from 19 observer reports posted on the AMS website indicate the object was too slow to be a disintegrating satellite, he said. Those are usually in the sky for only one or two minutes before they break up.
And the object - spotted above Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana - was likely flying too high to be a crashing airplane, Lunsford added.
"I'm convinced this object was a fireball, which is simply a larger than normal meteor," he wrote. "Most meteors you see in the sky are the size of tiny pebbles. Due to the tremendous velocity at which they strike the atmosphere, it only takes an object the size of a softball to briefly produce light equivalent to the full moon."
Ralph Dawes, an earth sciences and astronomy professor at Wenatchee Valley College, agreed that it was probably a streaking meteor. "The descriptions - elevation, fragments, tails, colors - are consistent with a meteor," he said. "It's spectacular to see, that's for sure, but it's not an unheard of event."
Wenatchee sky watcher Jerry Gibbons isn't so sure about all that meteor talk.
Gibbons, who lives at the top of Chatham Hill on Sunnyslope north of Wenatchee, said he'd taken his dogs for a romp that night when he looked up to see what he thought was a bright satellite moving southwest to northeast.
"I watched it a full four minutes before it disappeared between Rocky Reach and Badger Mountain," he wrote in an email. With light pollution over Wenatchee, he was amazed he could follow it so long.
"I've spotted and watched many satellites through the years - ever since the very first one (Sputnik) - and this was by far the brightest," he said.
SpaceWeather.com, the satellite spotter's online bible, lists the International Space Station as "very bright" in its nighttime passes over Wenatchee. The time of the ISS fly-over - between 9 and 10 p.m. - is close to the time of the fireball's appearance.
Wenatchee World online commenter LoneDog3 tied the fireball to the annual Perseid meteor shower, which reached its peak around midnight Saturday. "On the ride home from work I saw several meteors in the northeastern skies around midnight," he wrote.
Other commenters said they didn't know exactly what they saw, but were glad they saw it:
JGrillo: "We saw this object fall while camping at Mitchell Creek up Lake Chelan. It was green and was so bright that it cast a reflection on the lake."
Pink Princess: "I live in Waterville, and I happened to look up at that time and saw what looked like a ball of fire. It also did not dim and looked as if it landed on something close, right here in town. Wow! It sure was amazing and seemed really close."
Jrrsr09: "If it's what my aunt was talking about - and I believe it is - she has a place at Lake Roosevelt. She said she saw it, and it hit the water up there."
Linda Baker on the World's Facebook site: "My son and his friend came running into the house, yelling about this big thing on fire falling from the sky. And they even said a piece broke off of it before it disappeared. We're in Brewster."
n0b0dy: "I also saw the fireball! I told a bunch of people, and they all thought I was nuts. It went low across the river towards Badger Mountain. I saw it light up the haze all around it for about two to three seconds before it was gone. Seems fairly clear it was likely a meteorite or some kind of atmospheric debris. From my perspective, on a hill at the top of Fifth Street in Wenatchee, I could imagine it ending up in the river and somewhere close.
And then there were those who, jokingly, leaned towards theories of alien invasion.
Referring to the "Men in Black" movie series, in which agents wipe clean the memories of humans who saw aliens, DannyBoy wrote: "'You saw nothing,' says the man in the black suit."