Skywatchers in Virginia and Maryland were startled by a bright, smoking object on Monday that seemed to detonate in the sky.
- Pictured: A Leonid fireball during a Nov. 1998 meteor shower in Italy. (Lorenzo Lovato)
Hordes of incandescent meteors have ripped across U.S. skies this past week. According to alert skywatchers, the nation's capital got in on the stellar action in a big way.
The delightful blog Lunar Meteorite Hunters carries two reports of a glowing nightly visitor that appeared between 40 and 60 miles south of D.C. on Monday, Nov. 28. The first account is from Patrick in Leonardtown, Md., who caught a bright object whizzing by overhead around 9:20 p.m. The flaming flier lasted about 2 seconds, cycling like an angry squid from red to blue to green. Says Patrick, with minor spelling/grammar errors fixed:
No discernible sound. Very bright, same as the moon. Not blinding, but quite noticeable. Not sure, [but it looked like it had] only one tail. I'm not sure if it was when it entered the atmosphere, but I saw almost an explosion or halo form around it about halfway through its travel before it disappeared.
A meteor that was hoisted with its own petard, you say? Go on!
The next account of Monday's space shenanigans comes from an unnamed observer in Stafford, Va., at approximately the same time of evening. This witness also says the object flamed out in a spectacular fashion:
Two seconds left to right. White, reddish. Brightest thing in the sky.... I thought it was a falling star but then it exploded with a bright flash of light. It look like it hit something and disintegrated. There was a big puff of what look like smoke.
The forums of the American Meteor Society bear no similar reports of a Monday-night fireball near D.C., but resident site expert Robert Lunsford notes a number of minor meteor showers that might account for the sparking skies. The Andromedid shower is still ongoing with "low, but detectable" and slow-moving meteors, and the November Orionids reached their anthill peak on Nov. 30. A dimmed, crescent moon is allowing amateur astronomers in the Northern Hemisphere to see as many as four shooting stars an hour, Lunsford says.
So keep your eyes open and you might just see one of these eerie travelers from the beyond. However, best know how to distinguish between a meteor and a helicopter, first.