fireball and meteor reports

Atlantic Coast Fireball Sightings: March 29, 2009
Readers, if you photographed this event, please submit a report.

Summary: On March 29th, 2009, at approximately 9:45 pm EDT, people along the Atlantic coast of the USA between Maryland and North Carolina witnessed bright lights in the sky and heard thunderous booms. It was probably a meteoritic fireball--a small, random asteroid entering Earth's atmosphere and exploding. News reports of a falling Russian rocket are probably wrong. The booster stage of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft did indeed reenter Earth's atmosphere on March 29th, but not over the Atlantic coast. According to data published by US Strategic Command, however, the Russian booster reentered near Taiwan (24° N, 125° E) at 11:57 pm EDT, more than two hours after the Atlantic Coast event.

Eyewitness Accounts:

Location: Helen, Maryland
Comments: David W. Dunham, president, International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA): "While driving on MD 5 to get to Loveville, MD, while passing through the town of Helen, MD, I saw a bright meteor fall from about 50 deg. altitude until it disappeared maybe 3 seconds later behind a building at perhaps 10 deg. altitude, about 10 deg. of azimuth to the right of the direction of the road (that would put the meteor's azimuth at about 160 deg.; it fell almost straight down, I think moving a little to the left as it fell, maybe starting at azimuth 170 deg. and ending at 160 deg.). I estimate that the meteor was about mag. -6 or -7, and was mostly green in color, with some periods of yellow; it varied in brightness, but I didn't notice any bursts with pieces breaking off; with light pollution in the area, I would have missed fainter objects. I missed any terminal burst since that would have occurred too low, behind the building where I last saw the meteor. I stopped several seconds later to read my self-setting watch; I'm confident that the meteor occurred at 9:40.0 pm EDT (1:40.0 UT of March 30) with an accuracy of +/-0.3 minute or so. This morning, I heard on the radio that a "sky spectacle" had been seen last night at "about 9:45 pm" over Virginia and North Carolina. My location was at about long. 76 deg. 43.0' W., lat. 38 deg. 22.8' N.
All of this seems to be consistent with the reports of the meteor ending (being much brighter) somewhere near the Norfolk, VA region, where so many reports of the event have originated."

Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Comments: Mark Ost: "I am an amateur astronomer. I witnessed the fireball last night during an observing session. At approximately 2130 I witnessed the entry and what appeared to be an explosion of the bolide. The fireball was approximately 36 to 40 degrees above the horizon. I know this due to my telescope alignment and familiarity with the location of Polaris. The bolide was traveling in a north east direction. Initially the trace was the bright green of an ionization trail. The bolide then turned brilliant white fringed with an orange rim. I timed the arrival of the sound to two minutes after seeing the object explode and extinguish itself. I am located in southern Virginia Beach, Back Bay. Assuming the speed of sound at 600 mph, I calculated the distance to be 20 to 30 miles (direct line of sight) away. The event was also witnessed by Kent Blackwell, a very experienced amateur astronomer."

Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Comments: Kent Blackwell: "At precisely 9:50pm EDT on Sunday, March 29, 2009 Mark Ost and I were observing the night sky with our telescopes. Suddenly, the ground lit up a bright green color. Gazing skyward we saw what appeared to be brilliant fireball meteor. As it moved across the sky NNE between Ursa Minor and Ursa Major it turned from a green color to a brilliant orange, with a white core. Two and a half minutes later we heard a low pitch rumbling sound, which was more than likely from the bolide meteor just witnessed. Many reports have come in from the Tidewater, Virginia area residents who also saw the meteor.
I've been observing more than forty years but have never seen a meteor this bright. It was absolutely spectacular!"

Location: on the Virginia-North Carolina state line
Comments: Ryan Rhodes: "I live on the VA/NC state line 27 km from the coast in Chesapeake, VA. I am also a JPL Solar System Ambassador. I both heard and the felt the explosion explosion last evening.
There were many calls to a local radio morning call in show (WNIS, Norfolk, VA: Reports from witnesses who actually saw the object agree that it was and object in the sky which at first appeared yellow/orange then turned blue. It was lost from sight as it went over the southern horizon. The sky lit up shortly thereafter in a manner best described as a lightning flash."

Location: Norfolk, Virginia
Comments: Ryan Rhodes: "I Live in Norfolk, VA right near the Hampton Blvd Bridge. Last night around 9:45pm I was riding my bike over the bridge when I saw an extremely bright light flashing across the sky. My initial thought was that it was a flare or a meteor but it was at too low an altitude. It looked like it was right over the tree tops. The color of the light was White Blue and it was very much thicker than any meteor I have ever seen. The light was flashing and flickering and then it looked like it just burned out or disappeared. It was very strange and still has me wondering."

Location: near Hampton Roads, Virginia
Comments: Joseph M Zawodny : "Sorry no photos or video, but I did hear it. At first it sounded like distant thunder. With essentially clear skies that was unlikely though. Thinking about it a bit more, I concluded it sounded more like a sonic boom - the usual double boom-boom. With so many military aircraft in the area around Hampton Roads VA I thought someone got a little careless too close to land."

Location: Chespeake, Virginia
Comments: Phyllis Goldstein: "I was riding in my car on my way to work, riding on Moses Gramby Trail in Chespeake, Virginia, in the direction of Dominion Road when something made me turn and look over my left shoulder. I had the radio on so I did not hear any sound. What I saw was a rapidly expanding bright red light (fireworks red) behind (from my perspective) a long cloud. The edges were white and the major part of the expanding red light rose toward the sky. The time was 9:43 PM. Because the road winds, I am not completely sure of exactly what direction I saw the light, just generally also toward the North East. It was instantaneous, and there were no lingering lights.

"Just a few minutes earlier I had just been admiring the night when I walked out the door at 9:30 PM Eastern Daylight Savings Time. The area where I live is extremely light polluted, and I was really admiring the fact that I could actually see the Big Dipper toward the North East, and the moon was illuminated partially by Earth Shine, toward the West. There were a few very scattered clouds toward the East. I could also see many more stars than usual, but being en route to work, could not admire them for long.

"My daughter also saw the explosion toward the North East, she states she saw a dark yellow flash of light and heard a rumble, like that of cloud to cloud lightning. I theorized it was either a meteor, or some sort major land explosion, like that of a volcano. But there are no active volcanoes around here!!"

Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Comments: Stephen Spencer: "Last night my wife and I happened to be outside when there were about three bright flashes of light that lit up the neighborhood here in Virginia Beach. Naturally the flashes made us look up and we saw a bright bluish ball with a firey tail streaking in an easterly direction. A few seconds later there was a tremendous boom and long rumble that shook the ground. I don't think it was military, I believe it was a meteor. It scared the dickens out of our dogs, one of whom is deaf."

Location: Pennsylvania (Route 83, Exit 21)
Comments: John Abruzzo: "I was driving south on Route 83 in Pennsylvania on March 29, 2009. At approximately 9:45PM I was half a mile north of Exit 21, when I saw a fireball in the sky. At first I thought it was fireworks, but it was too big. Then I thought it was a signal flare, but it traveled too far. It disappeared beyond the trees to my left. It was the biggest fireball I have seen."

Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Comments: Cynthia Hoeflich: "I live in Va. Beach in a small mobile home park near Lynnhaven Parkway, only about 5 miles from the oceanfront. Around 9:30p.m., I saw two brilliant pale blue (almost white) flashes. We had been expecting thunderstorms over the last couple days, so I didn't think much of it. I told my husband I saw what I thought was lightning and a few minutes later, we heard a loud, deep rumble and we felt our home shake. It sounded and felt like a propane tank exploding. Our cats freaked out, as did the both of us. We ran outside and expected to see flames and smoke nearby, but only saw a bunch of our neighbors walking the streets asking one another if they heard and felt what just happened. We jumped in our car and drove through our community, as well as a nearby condo and town house community to find nothing. I called my Mom who lives about 10 minutes away West of us and she said she saw two more brilliant blue flashes, heard a deep rumble and also felt her home shake. Our second thought was that the nearby Navy base in Oceana had done some secret tests with bombs or something, but knowing our Government, we'll probably never know. We all are still pretty creeped out about it!"

Location: near the FBI building in Norfolk, Virginia
Comments: Julia Ruane-Smith: "My husband and I were walking our dogs about 9:45pm. I suddenly became aware there was light around me so I looked up. Right above me was a HUGE streak of blue white light about the size of a house flying above my head! Seconds later it disappeared into pinprick of space and then I heard several explosions. I watched the horizon to see if there was evidence of a crash but there was nothing."


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