Fireball season enters full bloom
A spring fireball captured by NASA on March 16, 2009.
March 31st, 2011
08:40 PM ET

Fireball season enters full bloom

Signs of spring are upon us, at least in some parts of the country: the cacophony of squirrels and birds, fresh coats of pollen on cars, budding trees ... and great balls of fire in the sky?

Yes, according to NASA, spring also means an increased rate of bright meteors, also known as fireballs.

"Spring is fireball season," said Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Center. "For reasons we don't fully understand, the rate of bright meteors climbs during the weeks around the vernal equinox."

A fireball is a meteor that's brighter than the planet Venus. Other times of the year, a person observing the skies from dusk until dawn might spot around 10 fireballs. This time of year, their nightly rate climbs to 30%.

"We've known about this phenomenon for more than 30 years," Cooke said. "It's not only fireballs that are affected. Meteorite falls - space rocks that actually hit the ground - are more common in spring as well."

Scientists don't have an explanation for the phenomenon, but they're working on it.

"Some researchers think there might be an intrinsic variation in the meteoroid population along Earth's orbit, with a peak in big fireball-producing debris around spring and early summer. We probably won't know the answer until we learn more about their orbits," said meteoroid expert Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario.

Cooke is setting up a network of smart meteor cameras around the country to photograph fireballs and triangulate their orbits, and he's looking for places to put his cameras. Read more on NASA's "What's Hitting Earth" page.

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Filed under: Space
soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. raven

    (ahem ) Mi Mi Mi, Skyrockets in flight...

    March 31, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • SirDirtiness

      Afternoon delight

      March 31, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy

    Cool! If it ever warms up enough for me to get outside to look up, that is!

    Hi, raven!

    March 31, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dwight Guy

    I've been an amateur astronomer for years, and I know plenty of other people who are as well, and I can promise you, NONE of them have ever seen 10 fireballs between dusk and dawn. As far as "their nightly rate climbing to 30%", what does that even mean?

    March 31, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Incompetent Writer

      Exactly! It should have said "...the nightly rate climbs 30%" or multiplies by 130% for that matter.

      March 31, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • pooch

      exactly what i thought. what is it these people do for a living? oh, right, write to communicate.

      March 31, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Ya, I caught that too. I'm amazed that these people actually passed journalism school and then get hired to work at an international news agency. Isn't grammar, fact-checking, spell-checking and proof-reading a requirement to pass? Not anymore, I guess. Pathetic.

      March 31, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • LostInSpace

      RE: The 30% – I caught that also. First they let all the editors go then the reporters and filled the positions with unpaid interns. Don't laugh your job is next.

      March 31, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • SDN

      Yeah, let's chop the authors to shreds. Nothing better to do. We sit around at our keyboards picking anybody and everybody to pieces.

      April 1, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Lola

      Dwight, that's likely a fragment from an edit. I'll wager it's supposed to read "climbs to 30." As you probably know from all the posting you do, it's easy when editing on a computer to end up with fragments from incomplete deletions. Lighten up. Newspapers (dead tree variety) make editing errors, too.

      April 1, 2011 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Star Shooter

      I agree. A person would be lucky to see one Bolide (fireball) per week or month as bright as Venus (brightest object in night sky except for Moon), much less per night. Most every night sightings are less than magnitude 1-2.

      April 1, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Dug

      I saw like 5000 in a night when i was a teenager but then again it might just have been all the acid...

      April 1, 2011 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
  4. raven

    This thing on ?check,one ,two. I just bought a brand new telescope yesterday. Cant wait to check it out and learn more bout our little corner of the universe! Dunno if i could track a meteor tho,they move pretty quick .

    March 31, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Star Shooter

      @raven. Meteorides, meteors, meteorites. Meteorides are the objects outside the Earth's atmosphere. Meteors are the objects we see as they pass through the atmosphere. Meteorites are the objects you find on the ground. A telescope is not the best instrument to use to see them (meteors). Binoculars are better (7x50mm). Track them with your eye and quickly view them with binocs. The best way is still with the unaided eye. Prop yourself on a comfy lawn chair, blanket, munchies and your iPod. Set a digital camera on tripod. Put aperture wide open and set to infinity. Set exposure on bulb/timer for 10-30minutes. Should give you good results.

      April 1, 2011 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
    • May I

      Go out on a clear night, lie flat on your back, and look straight up. It will take 30 to 40 minutes for your eyes to become light adapted, so be patient. By looking straight up, you may catch meteor streaks with your peripheral vision too. You don't need any special equipment - just your eyes. The fireballs/meteor streaks travel fast, you may only have a second or so of vision so it is impossible to follow one with a scope.

      But you can see the moons of Jupiter and Saturn and Saturn's rings, watch Venus go through her phases (Venus has phases just like our moon!), and see where our Astronauts walked on the moon.

      It is usually best, with a new scope to familiarize yourself with it during the day, in the warmth of your house. And be sure to let your scope cool down. Your scope needs to be the same temperature as the outside air, else you will get wavy distortions just like the heat waves coming off a hot highway.

      April 1, 2011 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Mercury32

      I also once had a freshly purchased cheap telescope and was dying for a clear night to try it out.

      The 3 most impressive things for me were... The rings of Saturn, they are easily visible with a cheap telescope. The Moon. We see the moon pretty well, but with your tele you can see the mountains and shadows of the mountains. Wow. And lastly M31... the Andromeda Galaxy. I really think that is a nice first tour of pretty cool stuff. I also understand there are good apps/sites that can orient you and help you find where to look. I found it all pretty cool, but mostly it was to get the girl next door to introduce herself. Worked.

      April 1, 2011 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
  5. raven

    Hey banasy! Hows every lil thing ? This place is crazy with all the imposters but that really was *me * in the memorial blog.

    March 31, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. david

    Hello raven. What do you hope to see in the sky? It would be astounding to see the red spot on Jupiter.

    March 31, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clark Nova

      It's been the faded pinkish-grey spot for many years. It's not that impressive any more.

      April 1, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. raven

    Hey Dwight, I was wondering the same thing but was embarrassed to ask .30%?? And have you ever been lucky enough to see a meteor thru a telescope ?if so,is there a trick ?

    March 31, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      That's just about what it would be... luck. And telescope has a relatively narrow field of view compared to binoculars or your unaided eye. So it would just be plain luck if a meteor passed across the field of view, and you might not even notice it. Your naked eyes are the best instrument for viewing meteors & showers, or a camera set on "bulb", but that's for viewing after the fact.

      April 1, 2011 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jazz7

    Tell me about it Raven , that was crazy , never expected to have myself hi-jacked like that , I just had to let it go, o I just quoted a Beatles song , HAHA

    March 31, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. publius enigma

    Does it also increase in the spring for the southern hemisphere or is it in the fall down there? Sloppy.

    March 31, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff Frank - Ohio

    I checked out this astronomy book when I was a little boy, and ran across an old black and white photo of an old Model T Ford, that was hit behind the drivers seat by a meteorite. The hole was about three inches in diameter, and when it slammed in the car, it went clear through the steel roof and right on down through the steel floor board. Nobody was in the car. It was parked for the evening.

    March 31, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Maynard B. Keynes

    "Other times of the year, a person observing the skies from dusk until dawn might spot around 10 fireballs. This time of year, their nightly rate climbs to 30%."

    ^ obviously a poorly constructed sentence... consider the ignorance of the subject matter on the part of the author to not spot that.

    March 31, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RichardSRussell

    Now cuing Jerry Lee Lewis:

    March 31, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. hi

    I know it.... May 22, 2011.... Somewhere in England or Budapest there will be solar flares striking that city. I remember the shape of the building but can't remember the place. I saw fire ball explosion.

    March 31, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JAZZ

    Booking my ticket to England as we speak. I would hope to go to Germany one day , I am 3/4 German and thank god no relation to Hitler.

    March 31, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neal

      Germany itself has around 82 million people not including all the people of Germanic origins. I would hazard a guess that MOST Germans are not related to Hitler... perhaps you're related to one of the Brown Shirts.

      April 1, 2011 at 2:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Neal

      before anyone gets their lederhosen in a knot, I meant to say: "Germany itself has around 82 million people, that's not even including all the people of Germanic origins around the world".

      April 1, 2011 at 2:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. Bumbles Bounce

    I thought this was going to be a story about the reindeer that gives Rudolph crap at reindeer games when Rudolph's fake nose falls off.

    March 31, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • SDN

      Thanks for stopping by.

      April 1, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
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