Faculty of Science

Catching a Fireball

by Communications Staff

Astronomers from The University of Western Ontario have released footage of a meteor, which was captured by its highly advanced video surveillance system, traveling through the evening sky east of Toronto on Monday evening (December 12, 2011).

The above video of the Selwyn Meteor is from the Orangeville camera. Videos from other camera positions are also available.

Although this bright fireball occurred near the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, it is unrelated to that shower.

At 6:04 p.m., six cameras of Western's Southern Ontario Meteor Network recorded a slow-moving fireball, estimated to be no bigger than a basketball, which first entered the atmosphere at a shallow angle of 25 degrees at 14 km per second. It first became visible over Lake Erie then moved toward the north-northeast ending at an altitude of 31 km just south of the town of Selwyn, Ontario. It is likely to have dropped small meteorites in a region to the east of Selwyn near the eastern end of Upper Stony Lake.

The video data suggest an end mass that may total as much as a few kilograms, likely in the form of many fragments in one gram to hundreds of a gram size range.

"Finding a meteorite from a fireball captured by video is equivalent to a planetary sample return mission," says Peter Brown, the Director of Western's Centre for Planetary & Space Exploration. "We know where the object comes from in our solar system and can study it in the lab. Only about a dozen previous meteorite falls have had their orbits measured by cameras so each new event adds significantly to our understanding of the small bodies in the solar system. In essence, each new recovered meteorite is adding to our understanding of the formation and evolution of our own solar system."

Researchers at Western and the Royal Ontario Museum are interested in hearing from anyone who may have witnessed or recorded this evening event, or who may have found fragments of the freshly fallen meteorite. The Fall map of the meteorite shows the predicted range of where meteorite debris may be found.

For assistance with possible meteorites, please contact Kimberly Tait at 416-586-5820 or ktait@rom.on.ca