Posted March 21, 2011
A fairly frequent question we receive in the WeatherCenter is something on the order of "I saw a really bright streak across the sky last night. What was that?" Often, the answer is a very bright meteor called a "fireball," which may leave a smoke trail in its wake and on occasion may be seen to explode or break into several pieces, in which case it is also known as a "bolide."
One resource we've often referred people to to check whether someone recorded information on the sighting is the American Meteor Society's Fireball Log. On this page you can review reports of fireball sightings around the country,and there is a link to submit you own fireball report if you'd like to do so.
A newer wrinkle on observing meteors, and bright fireballs in particular, is a camera network that NASA is rolling out called the "All Sky Fireball Network." In addition to providing images captured by the upward pointing "fisheye" cameras, software can use imagery from multiple cameras to automatically compute the track of the meteor and determine the orbit it originated from, giving some clues to what parent object may have spawned it or confirming that it belonged to a particular meteor shower grouping.
So far, they've established three camera sites in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, but plan to add at least a dozen more over the eastern half or so of the country. It isn't clear if there will be one in our state, but they are working with planetaria, among other institutions, as hosts for the cameras. It would be very nice if our friends at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center were able to participate, but that remains to be seen. It appears that nightly imagery archives will be available on the network web site for about a three-week running time frame.
Keep your eyes on the sky, and if you see something be sure to check one of those sites for more information. I've included links to the AMS Fireball Log/Reporting site, a NASA story about the camera network, and to the All Sky Fireball network page itself.