(meteorobs) November 16 fireball
In reply to Ralph Winrich's request, below are my observations of the
November 16 fireball. Please note that as astronomy buffs go, I am about
as amateur as they get -- I made my way to this site while trying to
figure out "what we saw."
At about 7:00 PM local time (1900 EST) my wife and I were driving south
on US 31 just south of the Michigan/Indiana border -- approximately 86
degrees 20 min W and 41 degrees 45 min N, elevation 248 meters/814
feet (information from USGS topographic maps). This is very near South
Bend, Indiana's Michiana Regional Airport and, from the passenger seat,
my wife was noticing the landing lights of arriving and departing
aircraft. Apparently she noticed a particularly bright light to the west
and, as it came closer, asked "What is that thing?"
The object was high enough that I couldn't see it through the passenger
window from the driver's seat. My wife was getting very animated, so I
looked for a spot to pull off the highway onto the shoulder (there
wasn't much traffic). Having done so, I had to lean forward over the
steering wheel to look up through the top part of the windshield. The
fireball passed nearly overhead but, since we were facing south, was
apparently a little south of our location. It _appeared_ to be at the
low altitude of an aircraft on its final approach, but I've since read
that this was probably just an illusion. As it passed over, it was _at
least_ as bright as the full moon and the head appeared a little smaller
in diameter than a full moon. I'm really going out on a limb here, since
I'm not a great judge of such things, but I would guess that the tail
covered an angular distance (correct terminology?) of 20 to 25 degrees.
The fireball had a bright, bluish white head and a somewhat multicolored
tail -- but the tail was predominantly yellow orange with some green
variations. It appeared to trail a few red-orange sparks here and there,
which died out very quickly. As the fireball passed over and headed
east, we rolled down the van windows to listen for sounds, but heard
nothing but automobile traffic. As it got much farther east, the tail
was far less visible -- pretty much disappearing -- but we could see
what appeared to be red-orange sparks or embers going "just over the
>From the time my wife first noticed that this was something other than
an approaching airplane to the time the fireball disappeared in the east
I would guess that 30 seconds passed, but we didn't actually time it.
The direction of travel was pretty much due west to east, with a very
flat trajectory (no noticeable arc).
Based on the the pre-Leonid media hype, I initially assumed we had seen
a really outstanding Leonid, but after a little thought I realized that
this was not radiating from Leo by any stretch of the imagination --
which was still well below the opposite horizon. I found several reports
about this event in the local media, but they were pretty contradictory.
NASA, however, did have an article about it on their "Leonids Live!"
website; the article can now be found at:
After subscribing to this mailing list, I received a couple of e-mails
(from Bruce Musson and Steve Harrison on November 19) that were part of
a thread discussing what it was and referring to the "German guy", the
"satellite guys", and the "SL-16". I haven't figured out how to access
the earlier messages in the thread, so I'm still curious to find out
what we saw.
I suppose it doesn't matter much in the big scheme of things, but
somehow I'd like to think that what we saw was a cosmic event -- a
natural spectacle -- rather than man-made "space junk". But, either way,
I'd like to know what it was.
I apologize if this is too lengthy, but in my work I always like to get
all the information and weed out the stuff that doesn't seem relevant or
doesn't fit the facts.
C. J. Petlick
C. J. Petlick
Hunter Design Associates
1723 South State Street
St. Joseph, MI 49085
Voice: (616) 983-7968
Fax: (616) 983-7606
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