The Blackmore Vale’s dark skies mean we may witness some rare events – one such event happened in the late evening of Sunday 5th September.
At that time, an all-sky camera was taking long- exposure panoramic views of the sky so as to capture images of meteors and other lights as they passed by above Bagber Common. My colleague, John Savage, set up the camera at his home there so that he could record the comings and goings in the sky throughout the night, every clear night. At 10.47pm he happened to be outside when an incredibly bright meteor, known to astronomers as a ‘Fireball’, momentarily lit up the sky, almost turning night into day.
In John’s words his camera didn’t do justice to what he experienced personally – “the fireball streaked, fairly sedately for a meteor, across the sky just above the south- southwest horizon. It was very bright, lighting up the sky, and seemed, mid- trajectory, to explode in silence.” In the image you can see an enlarged portion of the all-sky photo he captured, depicting the bright streak just below the Milky Way.
Small piece of asteroid travelling at 48,000 mph.
The spectacle was actually caused by a small piece of an asteroid or comet travelling at high speed as it entered the atmosphere about 240 miles away over Brittany in France, heading in the direction of Cornwall. Probably the size of a large stone weighing around 40 kilograms, the explosion was provoked by the heat and pressure that was generated inside the object when it hit the atmosphere at a speed of 48,000 mph.
The fireball was filmed by several webcams as it lit up the sky including one at the brightly illuminated Southampton Docks – see the video bottom left. More videos can be found on the International Meteor Organisation’s website.
So next time when you are out and about after dark, be watchful of what’s happening overhead. You never know what you might see – possibly an Unidentified Flying Object – but most likely a fast moving meteor or fireball!
Dr Richard Miles Dark Skies Adviser Dorset CPRE