Fireball blazes through Pacific N.W. skies


Remember the adage: The early bird catches the fireball.

At least that’s what early risers in Clark County and much of the Pacific Northwest can claim if they were looking at the sky at 5:55 a.m. Wednesday morning.

That’s when a brilliant whitish-blue fireball streaked through the sky for about eight seconds, according to reports from across the region.

OMSI and the American Meteor Society are hoping that those who saw it will report in with details on the Web at http://www.amsmeteors.org/.

“Those people who saw it, they’ll remember it for the rest of their lives,” said Jim Todd, OMSI’s director of space science education.

The short duration in the sky makes fireballs hard to photograph, but Todd said he’s hoping a security camera or other device may have captured the event.

Todd didn’t see it himself, but he’s seen other fireballs in the past at OMSI star parties.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said.

The Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency had no reports from the public about the event, a dispatcher said.

But the AMS website had more than 40 reports from Oregon, Washington and other states by noon on Wednesday.

One person who reported seeing it in Vancouver said it was the “first (fireball) for me, coolest thing other than northern lights.”

Another person in Longview said it was the “biggest ever seen by me.”

Fireballs are created by meteors that burn as they travel through Earth’s atmosphere. They heat up because of friction with the surrounding gasses.

There’s a scale for reporting the brightness of fireballs. A magnitude -3 or -4 is as bright as Venus in the evening sky. A magnitude -12 is as bright as the full moon. A magnitude -26 is as bright as the sun.

The magnitude of Wednesday’s fireball appears to be around -8 to -10, Todd said.

In the sky over Clark County, the event would have been to the north near the horizon, Todd said.

Details, like the color, location and if there was a sound, can help scientists determine the speed, composition and other aspects of the meteor.

“One key would have been if there were a sonic boom reported, that might indicate some parts of the meteor survived,” Todd said. “Meteors also come in much hotter than man made space debris (like satellite parts).”

The blue-white color of Wednesday’s meteor suggests it was traveling very fast and very hot, and that the composition is probably nickel iron or some other metal, which is typical of an asteroid. A orange or yellow color would indicate it was moving more slowly.

“The timing of fireballs is sort of random, but this certainly won’t be the last one,” Todd said. “They happen all the time.”