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Comet or Asteroid? Big Space Rock Has Identity Crisis

596 Scheila
© Kevin HeiderA 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.

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UFO or Meteor Live on BBC Newscast

During Stargazing Live, on the BBC; a white light was seen appearing from a cloud and disappearing behind another. It's path did not look as though it was falling to earth! What do you think?


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US: Maryland Astrophotographer Captures Quadrantid Meteor

Mike Hankey, an amateur astrophotographer in Freeland, in north-central Maryland, set up his camera Tuesday morning to capture images of some of the Quadrantid meteors.

He only managed to snag one, but it was good one. He stitched a series of stills into an animation that includes the meteor and the glowing trail that he said persisted for more than 10 minutes.

Mike also captured the fireball at the top edge of the field of view on his security camera.


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3rd of January, Isle of Man: Meteor shower tonight and partial solar eclipse, including New Moon

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© Bill DaleThe last partial solar eclipse visible from the Isle of Man was in 1999
Tonight's meteor shower and tomorrow morning's partial solar eclipse are under threat from poor visibility, but Isle of Man stargazers are keeping their fingers crossed for a a break in the clouds.

Weather forecasters at the Ronaldsway Met office say we should expect a cold night (3C) and the possibility of some heavy rain showers with snow on hills but that visibility at sea level will be "good occasionally moderate". The cloud cover is more difficult to predict, but it appears that there will be broken cloud overnight and in the morning.

Tonight sees a significant meteor shower and tomorrow sees a partial solar eclipse which happens at dawn. The Quadrantids meteor shower hits its peak between 11pm and midnight tonight and the partial solar eclipse can be visible low on the horizon at dawn tomorrow. Sunrise is 8.38am.

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US: A Fireball in the Sky

Seattle Fireball
© Komo News
Tonight I was out at the jetty at Westport taking pictures of the sunset. I caught a 'fireball' in the sky out of the corner of my eye. This is what I saw and took these pictures. It appeared from nowhere, fell for about 2 minutes then disappeared. Is it a meteor?

Seattle Fireball_2
© Komo News

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Best of the Web: White House Adviser: US Must Prepare for Asteroid

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The White House has asked Congress to consider how to best deal with the potential threat to Earth of an impact with an asteroid from space.
If an asteroid were on a collision course with Earth, would we be ready to defend against its destructive impact or would we be helpless and defenseless?

NASA, America's space agency, is being charged with leading the way to protect not only the U.S. but the entire world in the event of such a horrifying scenario. And a top White House science adviser says we have to be prepared.

In separate 10-page letters to the House Committee on Science and Technology and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, outlines plans for "(A) protecting the United States from a near-Earth object that is expected to collide with Earth; and (B) implementing a deflection campaign, in consultation with international bodies, should one be necessary."

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US: Meteors Scream Over Maryland for Past Two Nights

For a second night in a row, Maryland residents have reported large fireballs coursing through the night sky.

The latest apparent meteor sighting occurred around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and set Twitter alight with wondrous didja-see-thats??! "Whoa," reported Chris Noonan Sturm. "I think I just saw a meteor scream to earth over Rockville & 270 while walking dog. Crazy fast. Started white, turned green, red." Others chimed in to say they saw a "white ball" shoot over the horizon in Gaithersburg; one person said it "flared out" after flying over Clopper, Md.

On Tuesday, the sky over Frederick and Hagerstown lit up like daytime when what must have been an epic meteor broke through the atmosphere. The Frederick Post was quickly on the story, gathering the most terrifying quote perhaps ever printed about shooting stars:

"I heard this sizzling behind me. ... I turned and looked: This huge meteorite came. ... It was throwing off sparks and chunks," Labrush said. "I'm into meteorites - every time they call for meteor showers, I'm out. I very seldom get scared - (but) I never want to see another one like that."

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US: Witnesses Startled by Shooting Star Over Frederick, Maryland

It wasn't a bird.

It wasn't a plane.

It wasn't even ... well, you know, but there was something that zipped across the evening sky at about 6:50 p.m. Tuesday and a number of area folks say they saw it.

"I tell you what, the hair stood up on the back of my neck," said Al Labrush, a veteran meteorite watcher and collector. "It was frightening."

Labrush said he was standing near Danielle's restaurant downtown when he caught sight of something that looked to be about 1,500 feet away.

"I heard this sizzling behind me. ... I turned and looked: This huge meteorite came. ... It was throwing off sparks and chunks," Labrush said. "I'm into meteorites -- every time they call for meteor showers, I'm out. I very seldom get scared -- (but) I never want to see another one like that."

Steve Lawrence saw it, too.

Lawrence was driving home on Old Kiln Road when he saw the bright object in the northern sky, "like a fireball," through the passenger side window.

Three white flashes erupted, lighting up the night like daylight for an instant, and then it all seemed to disintegrate, he said. "Night turned to day," Lawrence said. "The flash was like heat lightning."

Sean Dennison saw it, too -- from Hagerstown.

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US: Bright Maryland Meteor Spotted Tuesday Evening

I came back today to two reports of a bright meteor visible from Maryland Tuesday evening, Dec. 28, 2010. Details are still very sketchy. But 25-or-so other people from Virginia to New England spotted something similar at about the same time, according to fireball reports to the American Meteor Society web site.

If you spotted it, too, we'd love to get your descriptions.

Please leave a comment, and describe where you were, the time and date you saw the meteor, the direction you were looking and the direction of the meteor's duration, movement and approximate angle above the horizon. As an example: "Meteor moved from 40 degrees above the northeast horizon to 20 degrees above the southeast horizon before disappearing..." (On the horizon is zero degrees; straight up is 90 degrees.) Also include any color, visible trail or sounds.

The first report to us came from G. Mitchell, who emailed us at 9:18 p.m. Tuesday:

"Spotted a large green meteor tonight, approx, 6:50 p.m., moving east to west, lasting about 6 sec. with a shower of green sparks following my location 5 miles south of Pocomoke City, Md."

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New Mexico Fireball on Christmas

Reported by Thomas Ashcraft.

Nice meteor over eastern New Mexico Dec 25 at 2218 MST evening. (Dec 26, 2010, 0518 UTC).

Interestingly, the slower and sometimes larger the fireball, the less radio scatter reflection it creates. This one made just a subtle "twinkle."

Click here to watch video clip.