Oct. 17 California Fireball May Have Dropped Meteorites

Last night’s fireball over Belmont, California. The meteor first appears in the constellation Sagittarius and flamed across Ophiuchus and Hercules. The Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair is at center and tipped sideways with north to the right. Credit: Wes Jones

Although the Orionid meteor shower’s up at bat this weekend, meteors fall anytime. Those that drop from a random spot in the sky and aren’t connected to a specific comet, as the Orionids are with Halley’s Comet, are called sporadic meteors. On any given night you might see 5-10 sporadic meteors per hour.

Yesterday evening October 17 at 7:42 p.m. local time, a brilliant sporadic meteor created a sensation over the San Francisco Bay-San Jose region where it briefly lit up the night sky like a thousand sparklers. The fireball broke into pieces as it fell, rumbled like thunder and left a glowing train (luminous trail) in its wake. To hear some of the comments posted on the American Meteor Society’s Fireball Report website makes you wish you were there:

“Awesome wild glowing train that turned to smoke.” – Karen

“It must have been really big and/or really bright because it created shadows on the street and the delay between the first shadows appearing and the delayed boom was maybe more than a minute. It was so bright it created shadows on the road from the overhead powerlines.” – Alicia

“The sound was stretched out and there were several pulses, like distant thunder, but louder. After it passed overhead it broke into a number of pieces which continued in the same direction at first and then some diverged near end.” – Frank

“The fireball was clearly breaking up as it flew across the sky. it made the tail appear like a firework sparkler with blue and red and yellow sparks flying off.” – Amanda Titterington


Security cameras at California’s Lick Observatory recorded the fireball. The round, silhouetted structure at left is the telescope dome and the lights in the background are from San Jose.

While some news articles are connecting the fireball to the Orionid meteor shower, it’s completely unrelated. How do we know? The photo above clearly shows it originating in the Sagittarius area located in the opposite part of the sky from Orion. Orionids fly out of Orion which at the time had yet to rise. Because of the meteor’s slow speed, its breakup into fragments and reports of thundery booms that shook residents’ homes after it disappeared from view, there’s a fair chance it may have dropped meteorites. Meteors rumble, thunder and boom when they enter the lower atmosphere traveling faster than the speed of sound.

Meteorite hunters will be checking Doppler weather radar recordings made in the fall zone to see if they can pinpoint a possible search location. Jonathan Braidman of Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center, believes that fireball fragments may have fallen in hilly terrain north of Martinez, Cal. For the latest news and reports, please click over to Dirk Ross’s excellent Latest Worldwide Meteorite / Meteorite News site.

2 Responses

  1. TLR

    We saw it here in Southern CA @ 7:15pm Wed. There was one helicopter overhead with it’s search light, then two more joined in. This is a very quiet area of SoCal, so this was highly unusual. We went out to see what was going on for the second time, but we missed them. They had left abruptly. However, as soon as we opened the door, there was a very bright light right in front of us in the sky, lower altitude it seemed, it looked like debris falling straight down from the sky. It lit up everything for a brief second and then nothing. No sound, no booms..nothing. No streaking across the sky, just a straight fall downwards. We were facing South.

    Could this have been something that fell off the meteor?

    1. astrobob

      TLR,
      The time is so different I wonder if you saw different meteor or something else. The fireball came by about 7:40-7:45 p.m.

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