Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tue. Morning Fireball Over Pittsburgh Seen in Several States

Image of Tuesday morning fireball caught by an all-sky camera atop the Allegheny Observatory in
Pittsburgh. (Image Sources: NASA, Allegheny Observatory, American Meteor Society, WPXI-TV 11)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Early Tuesday morning, a bright fireball was observed by many people in the Pittsburgh area, and throughout much of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and New York. One of the largest such meteors observed since the Chelyabinsk, Russia meteor almost exactly two years earlier, fortunately in this case there has been no damage on the ground reported.

Friends of the Zeiss received an eye-witness report from a woman in the Pittsburgh suburb of Fox Chapel, who reported, “Gazing out my window, there was a blazing, streaking, yellow orange light heading N. to slightly N.E.  It had a slightly wide & long "tail" & was bright enough to light my room as though it was a searchlight.” She also noted “the sound of a distant boom” two minutes after seeing the meteor.

The American Meteor Society, which collects fireball and meteor reports from the general public, received 125 eye-witness reports about the event that occurred around 4:50 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) / 9:50 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on February 17. Three witnesses in the Pittsburgh area also reported hearing a delayed boom after seeing the fireball.

Images and video of the meteor were caught by three NASA cameras, including one on the roof of Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory. These are part of NASA's All-Sky Fireball Network, currently a network of 15 specialized, black-and-white video cameras, with lenses that allow for a view of the whole night sky overhead.

NASA estimates that the meteoroid, at the point it entered Earth's atmosphere, probably weighed about 500 pounds and was traveling about 45,000 miles per hour. Even though the dense space rock was only about two feet in diameter, after entering the atmosphere it flared-up brighter than a Full Moon. NASA also noted that, from the meteor's apparent orbit, it probably originated in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Yesterday, in an interview with Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV 2, Dr. Brendan Mullan, Director of the Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and Observatory at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center, mentioned that if remnants of the meteor reached the ground, they may have fallen near Kittanning, Pennsylvania (44 miles northeast of Pittsburgh). The American Meteor Society estimates, from witness reports, that the fireball trajectory did take it over Clarion County and northern Armstrong County in Western Pennsylvania.

It is estimated that only 10 percent of a large meteor, or in this case about 50 pounds of meteoric material, could have, potentially, reached the ground. The rest of the meteor would have been lost to the light and heat that created the fireball. Most small meteors are completely vaporized in the atmosphere. The fact that this meteor was large enough to create a sonic boom means there is a possibility that some meteoric material may have reached the ground.

With snowfalls since the fireball observation possibly covering any such remnants, meteorites from this meteor may not be found until Spring, at the earliest. And, even after the snow is gone, finding a remnant from this meteor could be quite difficult.

Video of Pittsburgh Fireball, from NASA camera atop Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory:
Link >>>

More on NASA's All-Sky Fireball Network: Link >>>

NASA animation showing apparent trajectory of Pittsburgh Fireball:
Link >>>

American Meteor Society reports and graphics regarding the Pittsburgh Fireball:
Link >>>

Related Blog Post ---

1938 Fireball Explosion Over W PA Remembered  (2013 March 11):

Link >>>

Special Thanks: Eric G. Canali, former Floor Manager of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science and Founder of the South Hills Backyard Astronomers amateur astronomy club.

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

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