A great ball of fire lit up the sky on Thursday, putting on a show for people in southern Ontario and the eastern U.S. — with Windsor-Essex right in the meteor’s flight path.
Glen O’Neil was in his vehicle and stopped at the Little White Church in Amherstburg, Ont., when he saw a bright ball of light fly over him.
“It was bigger than a star or an airplane, so I thought, well that’s weird, and it was moving a little quickly and all of a sudden I saw a tail of it and it has like look like flames,” said O’Neil, who lives in Colchester, Ont.
“I wish I would have had a dashcam to to record it, to prove it, because I thought nobody’s going to believe me,” said O’Neil.
According to Mike Hankey, operations manager at the American Meteor Society (AMS), it was a “sporadic meteor fireball.” It was not part of a meteor shower, like the Geminid meteor shower that is estimated to begin on Dec. 15.
Hankey, the creator of the AMS’s online fireball reporting tool, so far 847 people have reported seeing the meteor to the organization, which he said is a large number of sightings.
“Our record [of sightings] of all time was at 2,000. You know, the record before that was like 1,200. This [sighting] will probably get up to 1,000 by the end of today,” he said.
The sightings span from North Carolina to northern Michigan. AMS has an interactive map that shows the recorded sightings.
A big factor in how many reported sightings a meteor has, said Hankey, is the time of day that it falls and the how populated the area it falls in is. He said population density also impacts how many meteorites are found afterwards.
“There’s like a meteorite hunting community,” Hankey said. “Normally there’s thousands of meteorites get dropped by these events.”
AMS estimates that Thursday’s meteorites — the chunks of space rock that fall to earth as a meteor is burned up by the its atmosphere — likely fell somewhere near Friendsville, Md., … maybe.
“It’s a little bit more complicated than that,” he said, adding that the end of the meteor’s trajectory is in Friendsville, Md., but meteorites fall in a wide radius.
Hankey said more meteors are reported and documented each year.
“We actually have a statistics graph on the website cycle in the top right hand corner, but you can see that every year, you know we have more events than the previous year,” Hankey said, adding that doesn’t mean there are more meteors flying through the sky.
“It’s just that more people know about the system. More people are online,” he said.
Spotting the fireball, O’Neil said, is something that has never happened to him before. He said he has seen shooting stars while camping, but he has seen “Nothing like that, not that that big, that large. And it was clear skies at night, so it was perfect.”
“I think it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and tonight I’m going to go buy a lottery ticket,” O’Neil said.