VIDEO: Apparent ‘fireball’ lights up Kitchener night sky, visible as far as Ohio

KITCHENER — Sam Nabi was sitting on a park bench in Victoria Park, staring up at the night sky, when something caught his eye.

It was around 9:30 pm on Tuesday when suddenly the night came alive, first followed with a bright blue and white light, by what he said looked like an orange tail.

He wasn’t the only one stargazing at just the right time.

Experts believe the sighting could have been a fireball, a term used to describe a very bright meteor. It happens when an asteroid or comet fragment, known as a meteoroid, breaks apart as it encounters the thicker part of Earth’s atmosphere.

Objects causing fireballs can be larger than one meter in size.

In the hours that followed, 71 different people reported seeing the fireball to the International Meteor Organization, with most viewings occurring across southwestern Ontario, as well as Michigan, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.

Sightings were reported as far north as Elliot Lake, Ont., and as far south as Columbus, Ohio.

A dashcam in London, Ont., caught the full event, lasting just a couple of seconds, and showing what appears to be the fireball shooting down toward Earth.

The tail, as initially described by Nabi from the park bench, appears near the end of the video. In total, it lasts just eight seconds, with the fireball visible for about three seconds.

The video was posted online to Reddit.

It’s hard to say for sure what it was based on the initial reports and video footage, said Brian McNamara, a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Waterloo.

“But it looks like a fairly large meteor, perhaps a bolide, that struck the atmosphere and disintegrated,” he said in an email. “Some debris may have struck Earth, but again, hard to say. Exciting video footage.”

According to the American Meteor Society, a bolide refers to a “special type of fireball which explodes in a bright terminal flash at its end, often with visible fragmentation.”

Based on the video footage from London, local astronomy expert Ellen Papenburg said she also thinks it was a fireball or bolide.

To put it in layman’s terms: “A big, bright meteor,” she said.

According to the summer’s meteor shower calendar, the Perseids, Alpha Capricornids and Southern Delta Aquariids are all currently active.

Papenburg, a member of the Kitchener-Waterloo Astronomy Club, said Tuesday’s sighting could have been part of one of those meteor showers, but it also could have been a sporadic, random sighting.

Thousands of meteors occur in the Earth’s atmosphere everyday, but sightings of this magnitude are quite rare.

The American Meteor Society suggests experienced observers can expect to see only one major fireball for every 200 hours of meteor observing.

But fear not, fireball hopefuls. With three different meteor showers currently active, and warm summer weather making it easy to spend the night stargazing, it’s the perfect time of the year to pull out a blanket and spend the night staring above.

You never know what might flash across the night sky.

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