From: Frank Warren <frank-warren.nul> Date: Tue, 23 Mar 2004 08:03:55 -0800 Fwd Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2004 09:44:03 -0500 Subject: Astronomers Ecstatic Over Space Visitor Source: The Calgary Herald http://www.canada.com/calgary/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=229bcf98-ae28-497c-a1c1-0d838c277148 March 23, 2004 Fireball streaks across Prairies Astronomers ecstatic over space visitor Barb Pacholik and Sherri Zickefoose CanWest News Service and Calgary Herald A Calgary amateur astronomer's nightly routine of taping the city skyline paid off by capturing a glimpse of a spectacular fireball that blazed across Prairie skies. "So far, I'm the only one I know who's got it," said Don Hladiuk, a geologist and member of the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada. "So far, I'm the only one I know who's got it," said Don Hladiuk, a geologist and member of the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada. Hladiuk mans the University of Calgary's automatic sky search camera, and the fish-eye lens caught the streak of light and two bright flashes at 7:33 p.m., Sunday night, according to the camera's timer. "It's really exciting. In the end, you hope to discover new rocks." The fireball that lit up the night sky over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba has stoked excitement among astronomers musing about the rare possibility of a significant meteorite discovery. Determining the exact path of the fireball, which University of Calgary geologist Alan Hildebrand estimates to have been the size of a kitchen sink while sailing over the city, is proving to be a challenge. "We wish it was 10 tonnes instead of 100 kilograms," said Hildebrand, who is the co-ordinator of the Canadian Fireball Reporting Centre. Although the sky was cloudy on Sunday night, the burst of light was visible to Calgarian Rachel Crook as she headed north on Crowchild Trail. "There was a great, huge bright-orange flash to the east," she said. "It was amazing." "It totally took me by surprise. My first thought was something exploded. I was looking for smoke, like it was a helicopter." On Monday, Martin Beech, a Regina astronomer who sits on a national meteorite committee, was busy sifting through reported sightings. "It's potentially very exciting," said Beech, who teaches at the University of Regina's Campion College. "Without a doubt, a very bright fireball was seen," he said, adding all signs are pointing to a meteor -- burning fragments of asteroids from the region between Mars and Jupiter. Because it was so widely visible and some witnesses heard a sonic boom or smelled sulphur, the possibility of a meteorite -- when pieces of a meteor actually reach Earth -- are increased, he added. "There's a very good chance meteorites did come to ground from what I've heard so far." If a meteorite hit Saskatchewan and could be located, it would be the first "meteorite fall" -- a fireball sighting combined with finding material on the ground -- that's been recorded in the province, said Beech, a member of the Meteorites and Impacts Advisory Committee to the Canadian Space Agency. The fireball was not a satellite, part of a rocket or other manmade space debris, confirmed Capt. Dave Muralt of 17 Wing at CFB Moose Jaw, Sask. He checked Monday with Norad in Colorado, which tracks orbiting material returning to Earth. Chris Rutkowski, an unidentified flying object expert in Winnipeg, said "a good chunk of Canada saw this thing." He said there were reports Sunday of sightings from Edmonton to Ottawa and into North Dakota. Because so many people saw the fireball, chances are it was very high up, said Rutkowski, who was speaking on behalf of Ufology Research of Manitoba. Despite the dramatic display, the show lasted only about four seconds. But Ronalda and Ben Kleinsasser, who live on a farm near Kerrobert, Sask., won't forget what they saw. "I was watching TV when I saw this ball of fire dropping out of the sky with a tail of flames," said Ben Kleinsasser. "I watched it coming down until there it was, right in front of us. "My hair went up on end and I had goose bumps. It was wild. And it rumbled the floor pretty good because my daughter came running upstairs asking if someone fell in the house." Family members scoured the area for any sign of impact or damage. "I figured for sure it hit one of our barns or bins. That's how close it seemed." If anyone along the meteor's path finds an odd rock, there are tell-tale characteristics to look for, such as a shiny jet-black surface and magnetic properties, Beech said. QUICK FACTS: Here is some information about meteors: - What are they: Bits of comet debris. Scientists think comets formed some 4.6 billion years ago when the sun condensed out of a cloud of hydrogen, helium and some dust and the solar system was born. - Meteor: When the meteoroid, or comet debris, enters the Earth's atmosphere, the light phenomenon is called a meteor. - Meteorite: A meteoroid that survives passage through the atmosphere and hits the ground. - Speedball:Just before they enter the Earth's atmosphere, meteoroids travel at 71 km/second, or some 2,663 times as fast as a fast pitch in baseball, or the same as going around the Earth in 3.8 minutes. - Light show: The colour of a meteor is an indication of its composition and the excitation temperature: sodium atoms give an orange-yellow light, iron atoms a yellow light, magnesium a blue-green light, calcium atoms may add a violet hue, while silicon atoms and molecules of atmospheric nitrogen give a red light. - How old: If parts of a meteorite are found, its age can be determined by testing its level of radioactivity.
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