Meteor mysteries highlight Island skies

Journal Pioneer staff
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Two bright celestial flashes 24 hours apart

NORTH BEDEQUE - It's not unusual to see meteors in the night sky, but Maritimers can be forgiven if they think something unusual has been going on this week.

Two bright objects were reported in Maritime skies, almost exactly 24 hours apart. They have not been confirmed as meteors, but their appearance has certainly drawn attention.

Natural and man-made objects fall from space all the time, usually only noticed at night, especially in areas without interfering lights.  Daylight overwhelms the brightness of most things that heat up from friction with the atmosphere – space stuff is often travelling at tens of thousands of kilometres per hour.

Most objects display a bright trail through the night sky as they heat up or burn up, just like the element on a stove heats and brightens when energy is applied. A shallow angle of entry provides more time for the object to heat up, and possibly disintegrate or explode, while a steep angle may simply heat the object up before it impacts the Earth. The trails are really easy to see in dark, country areas.

On Tuesday morning, early risers were treated to a very bright, lonesome object that actually flared at one point in its voyage across eastern Canadian skies. There were many reports, and even some video evidence captured. That is unusual in itself, but a comparable event was also reported on Wednesday morning at about the same hour of day. That is really unusual, even if the second object behaved a bit differently.

Penny Perry was lucky enough to notice the second event from her house in North Bedeque, and reported it to find out if anyone else could corroborate the sighting.

She was letting her two dogs out for necessities at about 5:15 a.m., after seeing her husband off to work. Due to coyotes in the area, she normally keeps an eye on the dogs from her patio door view, facing northeast, and something in the sky attracted her attention.

"I missed the start of the fall, but did see it break into three rather large pieces and continue to fall towards the horizon," she indicated.

She didn't notice any flash, like the one on Tuesday was reported to have displayed. She was also not able to capture any image; it happened quickly but not quite like the streak a common meteor would have made.

"The fall was slower than a 'falling star' and was quite a bit bigger and brighter - I would have to say it presented similar to fireworks," she described.

Perry called her husband, who was on his way west to work in the Summerside area, but he had not seen anything. When he got to work, he heard that the International Space Station was supposed to be visible so he called his wife and suggested that.

"I know what I saw wasn't that," Perry stated.

She seems to be the lucky one in her personal circle, as no one among her workmates had seen the sight either.

Meteor-like events, especially bright ones, seem to be getting more notice since the spectacular explosion of a larger meteoric object over a Russian city last year. However, each day brings hundreds if not thousands of objects into contact with Earth's atmosphere.

Meteors are usually micrometeoroids, cosmic dust or minute grains of rock or metal. Meteoroids, natural objects up to one metre in diameter, as well as larger chunks of natural space debris called asteroids or comets, also impact the Earth. The rate of those instances becomes more rare with increasing size.

On any clear night, from a dark site, one might be able to count four to six of these objects per hour, noticeable in no particular area of the sky nor travelling in any particular direction. During a meteor shower, when the Earth is passing through a denser stream of particles left over from a comet or some similar object, a higher number of meteors might be noticed, all traceable to one particular area of the sky.

Of course, man-made objects could range from dust to paint flecks to satellites, space vehicles or space stations and could manifest in any part of the sky.

The vast majority of objects never make it to the ground. Their demise usually occurs far up in the atmosphere and poses no threat to anyone or anything, but they can appear to be descending to the ground relatively close to the observer, which can spawn all sorts of stories. Objects have been observed to actually fall near observers, who have subsequently searched and found fragments, but it doesn't happen often.

There has been no confirmation of what the objects were, that attracted such attention this week, but reports indicate that professionals in the field generally considered them meteors. Regardless of their origins, the objects were an incentive to keep one's eyes on the skies and hope for that cosmic stroke of luck, or perhaps just the joy of witnessing the wonder of nature's fireworks.

Organizations: International Space Station

Geographic location: Summerside

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