Possible meteor sighting creates excitement - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Possible meteor sighting creates excitement

A meteor caught on a sky cam in September of this year. A meteor caught on a sky cam in September of this year.

People looking for the International Space Station on Thursday evening also caught something else that was rather incredible.

It was a giant fireball in the sky that caused quite a stir.

"I thought it was a plane at first that was crashing because it was on fire," said Angel Harjo. "It was like a big ball of fire with a big line behind it."

Harjo, her mother, and her neighbor spotted the flaming object while driving north on 18th Street near Steele Road in Kansas City, KS.

"What we saw clearly was a bright green ball with a long, white streamy tail shooting across the sky," said Harjo's mother, Mary Acosta. "It maybe lasted a minute. Not a minute, one second. That's about it."

Dispatchers at the Missouri Highway Patrol in Lee's Summit took calls from concerned and confused people in all corners of their coverage area.

"I've never seen anything like this," said David Lane, a member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City. "I've never seen a fireball like that before other than the one in Russia recently. It pulsed three or four times on the way down."

The meteor in Russia was much smaller, but the science behind it is the same.

"It could be either stone, or iron, or even an ice fragment, traveling through space at around at 140,000 miles per hour," said Joe Wright, operations Director at the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Warkoczewski Public Observatory and vice president of the Astrological Society of Kansas City. "[It] crossed into earth's path, basically came into our atmosphere, [and] because of the speed and the friction started heating up."

That, in turn, causes the material to vaporize, he said, which is what causes the heat trail. Until then, however, it can be hard to spot.

"We can't see every direction every minute of the day and night," said Wright, "so this totally caught us off guard, just like the one in Russia and the one over Arizona."

While those unaware of what it was were concerned, astronomy buffs were geeked out.

"It was really intense, and very shallow, maybe at a 20-or-25-degree angle," said Lane. "I saw the huge ball and then green flashes.  The colors were amazing."

Wright said different colors appear as the temperatures rise and as the meteor passes through different altitudes burning off the different elements the meteor is made of, this could include iron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and silicates to name a few. Typical meteors (shooting stars) are created from an object the size of a grain of sand to a piece of rice or pea.

Massive as a fireball looks, he said it's doubtful the material that whizzed by the metro was any bigger than a tennis ball. He said what the material began as is something one cannot determine for certain unless a bit of the matter falls to earth.

Lane said it's likely that did happen in this case.

"I thought it would have hit the ground within 10 or 15 miles," Lane said, "and based upon what I saw I would think that something would have made it to the ground even if it's just gravel."

Wright said what's unusual isn't so much the existence of a meteor like this but rather a sighting. That's because more than 70-percent if the earth's surface is water, which is unpopulated. Also, areas in the Arctic are barely populated, so it's not often a highly visible meteor passes over a densely populated area, which is apparently exactly what happened tonight.

The museum in Flarsheim Hall on the campus of UMKC has some meteorites on display and is open to the public.

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