Sunday, February 26, 2012

NASA Says Feb 2012 Fireballs Are Different, Slower and Brighter, Video,

Fireballs of Feb 2012 very different than in the past

Watch out for the 'Fireballs of February': Slow meteors that shine brighter than Venus bombard Earth

If you look up to the sky tonight you might be treated to the annual astronomical phenomenon known as the 'Fireballs of February'.

Caused by meteors entering Earth's atmosphere at a lower trajectory and speed than usual, the space rocks burn brighter than Venus in the sky, which astronomers designate as a fireball.

Visible across the United States for the whole of this month, the fireballs have become a source of mystery for NASA scientists and other sky-watchers around the world.

Observing the phenomenon for the past 50 years, NASA say that February's fireballs are different from other months but the reason why is not clear.

'These fireballs are particularly slow and penetrating,' said Peter Brown, a physics professor at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

'They hit the top of the atmosphere moving slower than 15 kilometers per second (33,500 mph), decelerate rapidly and make it to within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of Earth’s surface.'

This years display began on cue this February 1st in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas.

A fireball as bright as a full moon was spotted by NASA cameras in New Mexico, more than 500 miles (805 km) away.

NASA researchers concluded it was caused by an object 3 to 6 feet wide.

'It was brighter and long-lasting than anything I've seen before,' said witness Daryn Morran.

'The fireball took about eight seconds to cross the sky. I could see the fireball start to slow down; then it exploded like a firecracker artillery shell into several pieces, flickered a few more times and then slowly burned out.'

In preparation for the annual fireball fest, NASA created the All-Sky Fireball Network.

Consisting of six cameras set up in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and New Mexico, to date they have observed half a dozen fireballs.

Ranging in size from a basketball to a bus, the annual light-show still has NASA's best stumped.

'They all hail from the asteroid belt, but not from a single location in the asteroid belt,' said Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

'There is no common source for these fireballs, which is puzzling.'

Over the past half-century sky-watchers have launched numerous studies into the February phenomenon.

Their results have been inconclusive, with some detecting more fireballs and others noting no increase.

For Cooke and his team though, the All-Sky Fireball Network may be the key to providing an answer.

"The beauty of our smart multi-camera system is that it measures orbits almost instantly,' said Cooke.

'We know right away when a fireball flurry is under way — and we can tell where the meteoroids came from.'

So far their results have shown that the meteorites come from the asteroid belt that exists between Mars and Jupiter.

However according to Professor Brown at the University of Westen Ontario they do not come from any single location.

Fireballs of Feb 2012 Different, Slower and Brighter Than in Previous Years, Video
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