The Weather Network – Two bright fireballs flashed over the Prairies, almost exactly one night apart

Thursday, March 24, 2022, 6:10 p.m. – The “once in a lifetime” meteor seen from Manitoba and Saskatchewan on Tuesday evening was followed by another over nearly the same area, almost exactly 24 hours later.

They came from completely different parts of the sky. Yet on a night apart – almost to the minute – two bright meteor fireballs flashed over the Prairie provinces this week.

At 9:48 p.m. central time on the night of Tuesday, March 22, a witness saw a very bright meteor crossing the sky.

According to the American Meteor Society, the fireball began about 40 kilometers north of Erwood, SK, just east of Highway 9 in the eastern part of the province. Then, for about 5 seconds, it flared to the southwest before dying out at a point just west of Fosston, SK, nearly 200 kilometers away.

March 22, 2022-MB-SK-Fireball-Map-AMSThis map from the American Meteor Society plots the path of the March 22, 2022 fireball over southeastern Saskatchewan (blue arrow). Colored spots indicate the “heat map” of observers, with darker colors representing a higher concentration of witnesses who reported the event. Credit: AMS

Reportedly, the event was seen as far away as North Dakota, southern Manitoba and northern Saskatchewan. Even someone from the village of Empress, on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border, spotted him.

Storm spotter Nick Schenher captured the fireball on his front door camera from Regina, SK.

If that wasn’t amazing enough, the following night, Wednesday March 23, at around the exact same time – 9:47 PM CT – a second meteoric fireball was spotted.

Unlike the one from the previous night, this meteoroid appeared to plunge almost straight down from space. Based on this, it had no relation to Tuesday night’s fireball, as the two originated from different points in space.

Alix and Jason Cruickshank captured this one on video from their home in Winnipeg, MB.

Fireballs like this are caused when chunks of rock or ice (meteoroids) plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere from space, moving at speeds of up to hundreds of thousands of kilometers per hour. As it passes through the upper atmosphere, a meteoroid compresses the air in its path, which warms it so much that it glows. This translates to the meteor flash we see in the sky. Since they occur at altitudes of 50 to 80 km above the ground, a particularly bright flash is usually visible for hundreds of kilometers around.

The meteor flash ends either when the meteoroid is completely vaporized by the heat, or when the meteoroid slows down enough that it can no longer compress air to the point of incandescence.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?

Seeing Tuesday night’s meteoric fireball was pretty rare.

“A fireball this big and bright is exceptionally rare to see,” Scott Young, the Manitoba Museum’s planetarium astronomer, told CBC Manitoba on Wednesday.

“If you’re a dedicated skywatcher and spend your whole life, you might be lucky to see two. But I mean, it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Witnessing two fireballs in the same place, two nights in a row… that must be exceptionally rare. Law?

According to reports from the American Meteor Society, only one of the 45 witnesses who saw the fireball on Tuesday evening – Trevor Bryant, of Brandon, MB – also managed to spot evidence of the event from the Wednesday evening.

Bryant’s webcam captured a great view of the first fireball (embedded below). However, he only managed to record an extremely brief flash of light from the second, as the meteor occurred outside of the camera’s view.

Watch below: See the March 22 fireball in Saskatchewan, as seen from Brandon, MB (at 0:23 of the video)

Witnessing a fireball isn’t just a matter of being outside and looking up.

Fireballs happen randomly, so they can happen at any time (but more on that below). First, it must be dark enough to see it, or the fireball must be bright enough to spot in daylight. Second, your timing of exactly where you are looking must be precise. These events are there and gone in seconds. So even looking at your cell phone, turning your head to talk to someone, or moving so that a building or trees suddenly block your view of that exact part of the sky, you could miss it. Third, you must actually be able to see the open sky. Clouds in the area might even make a super bright fireball go unnoticed.

So to see two meteors like this, almost exactly one night apart, is remarkable.

However, according to Denis Vida, postdoctoral researcher in meteor physics at Western University, the timing of these two may not be so rare after all.

In an email to The Weather Network, Vida pointed to research written in 1982 by Canadian meteor astronomers Ian Halliday and Arthur Griffin.

In their paper, Halliday and Griffin pulled together what we knew at the time about the origin of meteorites – the typical orbits that meteoroids follow around the Sun before hitting Earth. They then used this information to determine when we are most likely to see these meteor showers, based on the season, time of day and our latitude.

Summarizing the results, Vida said that “we will observe the greatest number of falls in the spring, between sunset and midnight.”

Since we are only a few days after the vernal equinox, Vida added, we are at the peak of annual meteor shower activity. Additionally, when these two fireballs were seen, at approximately 9:47 p.m. local time, it is also around the peak time of day for that latitude on Earth.

Related: Got Your Hands On A Space Rock? Here’s how to know for sure

COULD THERE BE METEORITES?

The typical meteoric flash in the sky is caused by a micrometeoroid – probably the size of a grain of sand – which tends to vaporize completely when it hits the atmosphere. Bright fireballs like these two, on the other hand, are produced by larger objects. The larger a meteoroid is and the slower it moves through the atmosphere, the more likely it is that part of it will survive to reach the ground.

It is then that there is a possibility of finding meteorites.

Meteoroid-Meteor-Meteorite-Fireball-Bolide-NASA-ROM-GoogleEarth-SSutherland

According to Vida, simply based on the lifespan of the two fireballs, it’s possible that around 100 grams of meteorites hit the ground from each. However, further analysis would be needed to be sure.

However, finding meteorites in Canada is often quite difficult. Snow on the ground can make this easier. The typical burnt black exterior of meteorites stands out quite nicely against the white surface. However, in areas with lots of trees and underbrush, locating them can be a challenge.

Related: Want to find a meteorite? Expert Geoff Notkin explains how!

If you think you’ve found one, here’s what to look for:

  • Look for the black exterior, the “fusion crust” that develops due to the heat of its passage through the atmosphere
  • See if it’s magnetic. Even a regular fridge magnet will tend to stick to a meteorite
  • Beware of “meteorites” such as industrial slag, which may have some characteristics of meteorites but are definitely from here on Earth.

Have you seen any of those glowing fireballs? If so, report what you witness to the American Meteor Society or the International Meteor Organization. Each eyewitness report helps refine the trajectory of these meteors, improve the science of meteors and fireballs, and perhaps even locate meteorites for study.

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