Monday, February 16, 2009

Stars Fell On Austin

Sunday morning was a time of some excitement here in Austin, when a fireball (an exceptionally bright meteor) zipped through the skies in broad daylight. Much of the city was out watching the Austin marathon as a meteor, most likely a chunk of rock about the size of a small automobile, burned up in Earth's atmosphere, complete with multiple sonic booms. So many people called 911 that my county's sheriff sent out a helicopter to look for debris.

But I missed the fun. I was indoors. I didn't see flashes, didn't hear booms, didn't suspect anything until my cousin emailed to ask if Martian Tripods were in the area. Thankfully, this wasn't an alien invasion (or at least they decided to go after Dallas first).

At first, there were some stories that the fireball was caused by debris from a satellite collision re-entering Earth's atmosphere; it didn't help that the FAA issued a notice that this may be the case. But the FAA doesn't deal with space debris, and, as Phil Plait laid out quite succinctly, all the facts point to an ordinary space rock.

Fireballs are rare, and those seen in the daylight are even rarer. But the Earth is a big place, and fireballs happen daily. Most go unnoticed, because 2/3 of the Earth is water, and much of the rest is sparsely populated. And people are not outside that much anymore -- we sleep at night, when meteors are most easily seen, and we tend not to look up much during the day. So, those lucky enough to see a fireball should consider themselves lucky. And those of us who were inside, well, we missed a good show.

Click here for a link to a video of the Austin fireball!


  1. I'm not in Austin anymore (obviously), but saw the story on CNN. They didn't give a lot of details (though they DID interview a "UFO expert"), so thanks for the post! I wish I could have seen it.

  2. My favourite story about this is that someone reported a sighting. Not your usual sighting. Said it was going in such and such direction, at such and such time to the second, at such and such GPS location good to a few meters. That's the kind of report that will help locate the debris, if any.

    Of course if it leaves a hole where something important was, that's a give-away too.