NASA launched a new website this month to share information gathered by U.S. military sensors on super-sized meteors like the recent blast over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Called Fireball and Bolide Reports, it’s handled through NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program and features a table of particulars about significant new falls.
What better way to start the new service than with the large fireball event in Russia. Basic information about location, speed and total energy are shown. Since fireballs occur far more often than asteroid impacts, the service will give scientists and the public a handle on the frequency and size of these events. It’s just one more way to ensure no one’s in the dark even when it comes to the small stuff.
The U.S. Air Force Space Command gathers optical and infrared sensor data from military DSP (Defence Support Program) satellites. While the purpose of DSP satellites is to monitor nuclear explosions and rocket launches, their sensors also detect something like 15-25 explosions every year in the upper atmosphere from incoming fireballs.
When a significant fireball is detected, Space Command moves the data along to the NASA which then publishes it on the new site. To date there’s only one entry plus a webpage with additional details about the Russian monster fireball.
Comet PANSTARRS Update:
Hey man, I can relate. Finally saw a very anemic Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS last night through clouds north of Duluth, Minn. I stood like a sentry with 10×50 binoculars and dared not look away until the comet popped into view exactly a half hour after sunset.
Thick streaks of gray cirrus clouds eventually won the battle but not before the golden-hued head of PANSTARRS magically materialized for about 20 seconds. I caught it one more time for another 10 seconds and that was that. Long enough to appreciate the “fuzzy star” appearance of the head and start of a tail.
Seeing a highly-anticipated object like PANSTARRS for the first time drains the anxiety and oils the machine. Next time I can take it easy. After all, how much adrenaline can one human muster? My journey to see the comet took me to a place that will make an ideal setting for photography. Check that off my list of concerns. And having seen it once, I can also better anticipate where to look and what to expect.
By the way, I’ll have a new round of comet maps soon.