Oh, yet another blog lapse — I seem to have these every year during the Dog Days of August. Sirius gets serious. You also have to consider that my posts are generated from the “Goodness Of My Heart”; i.e., the only compensation I receive is the pleasure I get from the comments. Of course I appreciate comments, particularly those from my friend and mentor Joan, (and of course those from my kin), but when I return from an excursion outside drenched in sweat all I want to do is immerse myself in challenging literature or music.

This week I spent a couple of days with my musical friends the McUmber-Houses, Dale and Sarah and their progeny. I play in an acoustic band with Dale and Sarah and we try to practice every week at the Java Jive coffee-house downtown.

Wednesday night I was standing outside Dale and Sarah’s house and observing the starry night sky — their place is far enough away from annoying city and town lights to offer quite an impressive celestial display. I was smoking a cigarette and attempting to identify constellations I once knew. Dale came out; he has a Dobsonian telescope and he’s familiar with the night sky. We were idly chatting about nebulae and such. I looked up and saw an amazing sight — a fireball streaming across the sky. Its diameter was about that of a pea held at arm’s length — that’s the distinction between an ordinary meteorite and a fireball; a meteorite or shooting star is a point source of light moving briefly across the night-time sky, while a fireball has an observable width and is much more dramatic. You can’t help but say “Wow!!” I’ve seen three of them so far during my brief tenure upon this planet.

I got back to Ava and Doug’s place last night. Doug was taking the trash out and we stood outside looking at the sky. I told him my fireball story and he had one to top it.

“We were out coon-huntin’ one night several years ago — the sky was clear; not a cloud to be seen. All of a sudden the sky just lit up from horizon to horizon. It didn’t seem like sheet lightning because there weren’t any clouds, and it was just so bright.”

I said “It might have been a really big meteor burning up.”

“Could have been, I guess. What else could it have been?”

This conversation reminded me of a family road-trip up to Lake Okoboji back when our kids were young. My mother’s folks used to spend their summers in a house-trailer by that spring-fed lake. We had stopped for a break at a small town north of Des Moines. There was an old train station there which had been long out of service. The station had been restored as a community museum.

I was looking around the grounds of the station and came across a hunk of what looked like rusty-brown stone with a sign beside it. It seemed that a local farmer had been working up some ground for planting years ago and came across this anomalous object, and he knew that it hadn’t been there the year before.

Eventually scientists were called in to look at the thing and they affirmed that it was an unusually large meteorite, mostly composed of iron, which had survived the fiery passage through our planet’s atmosphere. Most meteorites don’t.

Gotta go!




Filed under General and Local

17 responses to “Fireball

  1. Jeff Walz

    You probably saw one of the Perseid shower meteors (tiny bits of debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet), which began in late July and peaked last night (Thurs.) They will continue out of the Northeast for the next few days, but are now tapering off. It put on a pretty good show this year, from what I’ve read. 3 or 4AM seems to be best to view them (away from city lights, of course. Years ago, at our farm by Newark, Mo., I was doing some late night cat-fishing in our little pond. I kept noticing flashes of light out of the corner of my eye, and finally realized that it was the reflection in the water of an amazing meteor shower (probably the Perseid). I went down to Sue and Bob’s house just down the driveway, roused them, and we spent the next hour lying on their roof, watching the show. Jeff

  2. Joan

    The stars are in the right configuration.
    After 14 days of sighting no new posts
    Tonight I took one last shot at the blog
    In hopes of seeing something from our host.

    Holy Kryptonite! I can’t believe my eyes!
    Brand new postings ‘bout the planets and the stars.
    Tales of sighting great celestial productions.
    And on earth, meteorites. Maybe from Mars!

    Really glad to see new fodder for the blog now
    But for feedback to the others I must shout .
    I will gladly cede the comments all to Darrell
    Sky’s a subject I know nothing much about.

  3. paullamb

    I didn’t think Lake Okoboji actually existed (or is it the college that is make believe?).

  4. Virginia

    Larry, Thanks for the interesting post. I’m pleased to read you were able to see the Perseids and the fireball. We’ve had no clear skies and are missing the whole show. I’ve seen some spectacular rain drop displays instead. It just doesn’t take the place of the annual August sky display.

  5. Darrell

    Larry, I think Jeff is right: a Perseid. Any idea what happened to the iron meteorite youn saw? If memory serves me right, there was a small local museum in Clarksville Mo that exhibited a goodly sized stony-iron meteorite. A few years ago I looked for it and found neither museum nor meteorite. Has anypone seen it?
    The brightest meteor I’ve seen was in Saudi Arabia in 1998 when the Leonid shower put on a great show; bright enough to cast sharp shadows on the ground. The ionized trail it left glowed long after the meteor burned out.
    The strangest meteor I ever saw was a “burster” in 1997 in the Sierra foothills. A burster is a meteor that is heading toward you but burns out before you are an astrobleme (sp?). It wasn’t tricky eyes; two of us saw it at the same time.

  6. Darrell

    BTW, check the Aug 8 picture of Neptune on APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) . . . we were scoping Neptune with my friend’s 20″ scope when we both saw the abovementioned burster. Neptune was more impressive that a meteor . . . a smallish blue dot, about “like a pea at arms length” (sorry Larry). It was incomparable . . nothing like it ever. The picture gives an idea of the blue hue.

  7. Joan

    Here’s the Astronomy Picture of the Day link Darrell spoke of. At least I can be of some use on this topic.

    This is fascinating! Larry’s father Dave is an astronomy buff. He rents telescope time on line in some fashion which is totally beyond my comprehension.

  8. Joan

    Ok..more linkage. First two are Perseid shots from the last week and the last one is one from Mars…just because I think it’s a fabulous picture.

  9. Darrell

    Thanks Joan. The folks should enjoy these.

  10. Dori

    John and I were at the cabin in Colorado many years ago during the Perseid meteor shower. It was predicted to be a meteor storm versus a meteor shower. It sure blew us away! It looked like wide, feathered streaks very close and large, and in different colors – silver, gold and copper. Quite amazing and surreal. I’d love to see that again. Forgot to look this year.

  11. Joan

    You’re welcome, Darrell. Thank you for the astronomy pictures without which there would be no linkage. I had no idea there was one of these per day with explanatory text tacked on. Cool!

  12. Darrell

    Another site folks may enjoy is “The World at Night” or TWAN. It’s one of my favorites.

  13. Joan

    I don’t know if this is the right site, Darrell but these are some fabulous pictures. My Flash player does not work at present, so I just viewed them one at a time instead of a slide show. That Asia picture looks very much like the Mars photo from the other site.

  14. Darrell

    For TWAN, check . . .
    Then go into the galleries.

    The Mars pic was superb . . far better than what we could see from Market St. with a homebuilt telescope during the 1956 opposition.

  15. Adrian

    I enjoyed this post Dad, I haven’t been away from the city lights to enjoy the night sky in a while. Lake Okoboji brings back good memories. Love, Adrian

  16. Leslie

    I enjoyed this as well. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing a meteor shower. John went out to Bush Wildlife one night to try and see them and photograph them, but while it was cool to watch he got no photos. He’s been inspired too by Dad’s blog posts on his telescope findings.

    I remember that Okoboji trip – fun family reuinion! Was that also the time of the 93 flood? I miss the Nana and Granddad – they really made our visits special.

  17. Darrell

    And since this was put up, I have a UFO incident to report . . I thought this would be a proper place to run it.

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