A fiery sight lit up the sky Wednesday night as a meteor burned up and exploded when it hit the earth’s atmosphere.
It put on quite a show, with sightings all across southern Manitoba and into northwestern Ontario.
“The object that came in last night seems to have been a big version of a common meteor. Probably a rock the size of a baseball,” said Scott Young, planetarium astronomer at the Manitoba Museum.
“The rock basically burns up and disintegrates and all of that speed energy gets converted into heat and light and so that’s why we can see it.”
While meteor sightings are not uncommon, the estimated size of last night’s example tipped the scales.
The average meteor is no bigger than a grain of sand, travelling at tens of thousands of kilometres an hour as it hits the atmosphere where it is forced to slow down.
(Source: Derek Sobetski)
With multiple sighting reports, figuring out the meteor's flight path is made easier, and could even make space rock recovery possible. But in most cases, the meteor simply turns to dust before actually hitting the ground. Young said there have only been about 15 recovered samples in Manitoba. He said these samples may be dark, heavy rocks that are sometimes magnetic.
“For every 'meteor-right' there is a million 'meteor-wrongs.' They’re just rocks that look like you would expect, they’re dark, they look burned, but actually a meteor is not always what people expect,” said Young.
Using sighting information, it’s also possible to triangulate the origin of the meteor, which could offer insight into what objects could collide with the earth in the future and those that may have done so in the past.
The gathering of sighting information is mostly done by amateur astronomers and Young encourages anyone with information to make a record of the sighting. He said to include information like times and directions and maybe even a diagram. There is an organization called the International Meteor Organization (IMO), that collates fireball information from around the world. According to its data, last night’s event was number 115 since January 1st.
As for what was experienced in Manitoba, Young said it's not something that happens every day.
“This was a really good one. I’m kicking myself because I was outside last night with my telescope. About 8:30 (p.m.) I went inside for a warm-up break so I missed it,” Young said.
“If you saw it, this was a once in a lifetime sighting.”
Young said these types of events are unpredictable and said this was probably just a random rock. He said as the earth rotates around the sun it can sometimes run into them.