NASA video of California fireball helps narrow fall zone

San Mateo College student Paola-Castilla photographed the fireball on a cell phone while stuck in traffic. Credit: Paola-Castillo

Either meteorites haven’t been found yet or nobody’s talkin’. But videos and eyewitness reports have allowed Peter Jenniskens, principal investigator at SETI Institute, to paint a more detailed picture of the fireball that blazed over the San Francisco Bay area Wednesday evening.

Jenniskens examined the images recorded by two CAMS (Cameras for AllSky Meteor Surveillance) cameras, one near Sunnyvale and another at San Mateo College. Data from two widely-spaced places gives researchers the ability to triangulate distances and altitudes of a meteor’s flight.


The fireball was so bright in NASA’s sensitive camera, it blew out the image, creating some trippy effects.

The cameras tracked the car-sized space boulder from when it started to glow at 53 miles overhead down to 24 miles, when it exploded to pieces. Top speed was 31,300 mph. Jenniskens believes there’s a “good chance a relatively large fraction of this rock survived.”

Peter Jenniskens

Before meeting its earthly fate, the meteoroid circled the sun with a perihelion (closest point to the sun) of 91.8 million miles in nearly the same plane as Earth’s orbit. Practically a next door neighbor. Jenniskens began his search the hills north of the Bay area Friday for meteorite fragments. Let’s hope he finds a few!

If you were (are) in the area and wish to share videos and photographs and report possible meteorite finds, please email: Petrus.M.Jenniskens@nasa.gov

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

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