Sunday, January 12, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — John and Marianna Connolly of Williamsburg were going on a stroll in Look Park at dusk when they were shocked to see a “fireball” streak across the sky overhead.
“I thought it was fireworks at first, but it was way up there,” John Connolly said Sunday, soon after seeing the object at about 5:10 p.m. “It was way brighter than any meteorite I’ve seen.”
Similar reports from people all over New England, New York and New Jersey flooded Twitter and the website of the National Meteor Society soon afterward. Of the 90 reports of the bright object on the website, called a meteorite or fireball by many, 17 were from Massachusetts, including one from Amherst.
Connolly said the fireball was about five times bigger and hundreds of times brighter than most meteorites he has seen. He said it glowed blue and orange as it traveled for three or four seconds northeast across the sky before disappearing behind clouds.
Whatever it was, he said, “it was in the atmosphere for sure, it was burning up.”
He noted that it was not completely dark out at the time, and usually meteors are only visible when it is completely dark. “This was very bright, as bright as the moon,” he said.
Neither he or his wife heard any noise when they saw the fireball, he said.
According to a report on a NASA website, the Earth may be passing through debris from the Comet ISON, which burned up when it approached the sun in November.
“For several days around Jan. 12, 2014, Earth will pass through a stream of fine-grained debris from Comet ISON,” Meteor researcher Paul Wiegert was quoted as saying last year. “The resulting shower could have some interesting properties.”
Weigert said that while the debris is likely to be “extremely tiny grains of dust” that would not produce a visible flash, they could produce noctilucent clouds, which are clouds of ice crystals that glow electric-blue as they float above the Earth’s poles.
National Meteor Society observer Robert Lunsford wrote Jan. 9 that Earth would pass through the debris Jan. 15. “While the probability of meteor activity is remote, it is not 100 percent out of the question,” he wrote on the website.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.