Fire in the Sky


Sundiving Comet Storm

The sun has just experienced a storm - not of explosive flares and hot plasma, but of icy comets.

"The storm began on Dec 13th and ended on the 22nd," says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington, DC. "During that time, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) detected 25 comets diving into the sun. It was crazy!"

Sundiving comets - a.k.a. "sungrazers" - are nothing new. SOHO typically sees one every few days, plunging inward and disintegrating as solar heat sublimes its volatile ices. "But 25 comets in just ten days, that's unprecedented," says Battams.

"The comets were 10-meter class objects, about the size of a room or a house," notes Matthew Knight of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. "As comets go, these are considered small."


US: Meteor Over the Southern States

CNN takes a look at images of what could have been a meteor over the Southern states.


About four seconds warning: When heaven and earth collide

© Unknown
Scientists have discovered evidence of a catastrophic meteorite strike in Scotland's distant past. Stephen Phelan visited the scene of our armageddon to find out how likely it is to recur - and how little warning we would have.

Long before Scotland was Scotland, when the population consisted only of green algae and the Highlands were as dry as Death Valley, a large natural object fell out of space and struck the Earth near where the village of Stoer now stands, in Sutherland. This incident occurred 1.2 billion years ago, but it has only been confirmed in the last few months. "If the same thing happened today," says planetary geologist Scott Thackrey, "all the trees in Aberdeen would be felled. The trees in Inverness would actually ignite. Most man-made structures would collapse. Everything made of paper would burn. You wouldn't be safe in Glasgow. But sitting here, we would be vapourised."

As it happens, we are sitting out a rainstorm in a rented car beside the Stoer church graveyard. And if tombstones are monuments to life's impermanence, then geologists serve to remind us that even the mountains and seas are not nearly as eternal as we tell ourselves.


Apocalypse then: How a comet ended the Roman Empire

© Unknown
A close shave with a comet nearly 1,500 years ago caused a catastrophic change in the global climate, leading to famine, plague, the end of the Roman Empire, the birth of the Dark Ages and even the legend of King Arthur, a leading British scientist said at the British Association meeting in London yesterday.

Debris from the near miss bombarded the Earth with meteors, which threw enough dust and water vapour into the atmosphere to cut out sunlight and cool the planet to cause crop failure across the northern hemisphere. The cataclysmic famines weakened people's resistance to disease and led to the great plague of the emperor Justinian. It could also be responsible for the Arthurian stories about gods appearing in the sky followed by a fertile kingdom becoming a wasteland.

Mike Baillie, professor of palaeoecology at Queen's University in Belfast, said the central piece of evidence for a sudden global climate change about AD540 comes from the study of tree rings, which highlight the years when plant growth was poor or non-existent. "Oaks live for a long period and in order for a lot of them to show narrow rings at the same time it must have been a profoundly unpleasant event as far as the tree is concerned," Professor Baillie said.

"The event of AD540 is in or at the start of the Dark Ages and in my view probably caused the Dark Ages. It was a catastrophic environmental downturn which shows up in trees from Siberia, Scandinavia, northern Europe, north America and South America," he said. "The idea is that the Earth was hit by a 'cosmic swarm', a whole stack of cometary debris in a short period of time and that loaded the atmosphere with dust and debris and caused some sort of environmental downturn," Professor Baillie explained.

Tree rings round the world clearly indicate a major climate change unprecedented in the past two millenniums. This could have cooled the Earth by a few degrees, enough to cause crops to fail for several years in succession.

"It only requires a few degrees cooler conditions across the year for a few years, wiping out several consecutive harvests, and you've got a serious problem for any agricultural society," Professor Baillie said.


US: Mysterious Boom Rocks Region


San Diego's East County - More than 167 people have reported feeling a possible sonic boom at 10:28 a.m., the U.S. Geological Survey reports. The majority of reports came from San Diego and San Diego's East County, though the incident was felt was far away as Los Angeles County and Tijuana, Mexico.

A loud boom was followed by shaking that rattled windows for 30 seconds or so at East County Magazine's office in La Mesa. The USGS siet lists the mysterious noise/shaking as a possible sonic boom, but confirms that no earthquake occurred.

Did you feel it? You can report your experience to the USGS here.


Huge Fireball Spotted Over Southeast US

At roughly 8:50pm local time an apparent meteor was spotted by observers in Acadiana including KATC's Hoyt Harris. Hoyt and Acadiana were not alone in the observation with twitter reports (#flashoflight) from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida of a bright object in the sky at the same time.

A sonic boom was heard as far north as Western North Carolina where cloudy skies prohibited the viewing of the fireball. None of the reports in Acadiana mentioned a sonic boom.

The possible meteor was described as a large green ball (copper composition) with a trailing orange and yellow tail.

While there were no major meteor showers in progress there could still be a random object striking the Earth's atmosphere. Meteors as small as the size of a pea striking the Earth can put on quite a show, but many believe that this object was a lot larger.


US: Ball of Fire Turns Out to Be Meteor Near Oklahoma

© Todays THV

Poteau -- Quite a stir across the state tonight, lots of folks saw a big ball of fire streaking across the sky.

The Sebastian County Sheriff's Office says it was a meteor and likely hit near Poteau Mountain, Oklahoma.

We contacted amateur astronomer Steven Meeks who writes an astronomy blog on, he says it was likely a meteor and since some people saw it burn a bit greenish -- it probably contained copper.

He also says it was probably no bigger than a pebble. According to affiliate KFSM, the meteor was also sighted in Greenwood, Jonesboro, Jackson, Miss., Biloxi, Miss., and the Florida Panhandle.


Greece: Meteorite Streaks Past Moon

A meteor streaks by the moon in this video from a Greek News Channel on Jan 1st 2011.


Moon Hit by Meteor Caught on Tape

China lunar probe caught this impact on the moon.


Comet or Asteroid? Big Space Rock Has Identity Crisis

© Kevin Heider
A picture showing the faint tail of the celestial body 596 Scheila, which was once thought to be an asteroid. Researchers now think it may be a dormant comet coming back to life

A huge asteroid discovered more than 100 years ago may not be an asteroid at all, but a dormant comet that is just now coming back to life, according to new observations.

The object, known as 596 Scheila, is about 70 miles (113 kilometers) wide and has a faint, wispy tail that suggests it may actually be a comet, researchers said. If that's the case, then 596 Scheila would be only the sixth known comet to reside in the main asteroid belt, a vast region of space rocks that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The asteroid-turned-comet discovery was somewhat serendipitous. On the night of Dec. 11, astronomer Steve Larson, a scientist with the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Ariz., was searching for potentially hazardous asteroids when he came across an object with a bright core and a faint tail.