Fireball! Interplanetary Visitor Heads For Lake Michigan

A meteor seen across Wisconsin and northern Illinois was recorded by a camera on the roof of the Atmospheric, Oceanic & Space Sciences Building on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison earlier this morning.

At 1:25 a.m. today a massive green fireball seared the sky over the U.S. Midwest sparking hundreds of eyewitness reports and producing awesome dashcam and security camera video. The meteoroid and any possible fragments that may have survived the fall were traveling northeast before they disappeared over Lake Michigan offshore from the city of Cleveland, Wis. Before it did, the fireball was widely seen from as far west as Missouri and as far east as New York state. As might be expected, the majority of reports came from the heavily populated Chicago area.

This is the February 6, 2017 fireball caught on a dashcam by Lisle, Ill. police department.

Explosive detonations were heard by many people. Doppler radar also recorded “hits” from solid stuff in the trail of the meteoroid, an excellent indication that meteorites landed … somewhere. Since meteorite-producing fireballs can begin dropping fragments miles before the final piece lands, there’s a possibility that some space rock fragments dropped to the ground before the remainder plopped into the lake. Assuming rocks fell which appears likely based on the radar signatures.

Meteor sonic boom 2/6/2017 1:30 CST Greenville, Wis.

So far I’ve seen one report — unconfirmed — about a strike in a cornfield. Time will tell. Enjoy the videos. Reports vary, but some estimated the meteor’s brightness as momentarily equal to that of the sun. In the Lisle, Ill. video the object bears a striking resemblance to the brilliant, flaring Russian Chelyabinsk fireball that spray-shot thousands of fragments along its path. Other videos recorded the sonic boom of the meteoroid entering or breaking up in the atmosphere. One of the best was taken  with a cell phone in a car but contains objectionable language.

Figures on this map represent people who saw the fireball and reported it to the American Meteor Society website. Credit and copyright: Google Maps, Google Earth and American Meteor Society

When I hear more about the fireball and any potential meteorites that may have fallen, I’ll update this post. Nearly all bright fireballs originate from asteroids located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter 329 to 479 million miles from the sun. Asteroid collisions create fragments that get nudged by Jupiter’s gravity into orbits that take them much closer to the sun in the vicinity of the Earth. When the Earth and asteroid paths cross, the fragment plummets through our atmosphere inciting a lot of ooohs and aaahs and sometimes depositing pieces of itself on the ground as meteorites.

** Want to know know more about fireballs, meteor showers and meteorites? Pick up a copy of my recently published book, Night Sky with the Naked Eye, at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  It covers all the great things you can see at night with just your eyeballs. No equipment required!