Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

December 27, 2013

Fireball in Iowa sky generates hundreds of reports

By MATT MILNER
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Residents of several states got a celestial show Thursday evening when an unusually bright and long-lived fireball streaked across the sky.

The fireball was some sort of debris entering the atmosphere, though it’s not exactly clear what. Space junk like old satellites can cause bright events, but the thinking on Thursday’s show is that it was a natural object like a meteor.

The American Meteor Society received more than 400 reports about the fireball. Most came from central Iowa and the Quad Cities area. But large clusters of reports for the same event came from Lincoln, Neb., and St. Louis, Mo. One even arrived from Clarksburg, W.V.

A number of people reported the sighting on the Courier’s Facebook page. Several thought it could have been fireworks.

Julia Clouse said her parents and brother spotted it over Albia and described it as a “brilliant white streak with sparks and different colors coming off it.”

Roxanne Harris’ view from south of Ottumwa also indicated sparks coming from the object. She said it lasted some time.

Reports on the AMS website agree that the object was bright, with some indicating it was brighter than a full moon. Information from the website suggests that means the object, or it’s remnants, could have reached the ground. There’s a catch, though. If the object originated with a comet, it probably dissolved entirely.

How unusual is something like this? The earth is pelted with debris all the time. Most of the stuff is small and short-lived once it hits the atmosphere. That’s where you get “shooting stars.”

The last object the AMS received this many reports for was October 30, when 365 people reported a fireball on the west coast. The last one to generate more reports was Sept. 28, when 1,422 reports came in from western New York all the way down to northern Georgia.