A fireball that lit up the night and emitted a loud boom heard by people across central Alberta was likely a meteor breaking up as it sped across the Tuesday night sky, according to at least one expert.
“What people got to see would have been a really bright meteor — something we call a fireball or a bolide,” said Frank Florian, the Telus World of Science director of planetarium and space sciences.
A meteor is a piece of space dust or debris that burns up in the atmosphere and only becomes a meteorite once it hits the ground. A bolide is an exceptionally bright meteor that explodes. It can also be interchangeably called a fireball.
“This one here was quite spectacular, from what I understand, in terms of its brightness, as well as the booms that certain individuals in certain regions actually heard,” Florian said.
The fireball created a stir on social media Tuesday night, with multiple people from Edmonton to Red Deer saying they heard a distinctive loud boom and saw a glow light up the sky.
Kaitlyn Kostyniuk, who lives about a 10-minute drive north of Rocky Mountain House, caught a glimpse of the flash on camera shortly before 9 p.m.
“I was getting ready for bed and my notification went off on my phone that there was a motion captured on our front-porch camera, which is weird because we’re out in the middle of nowhere,” she told Global News.
“I went to open up the video and check it out and I got a nice light show.”
“To me at first it kind of looked like someone was holding a flashlight right outside my window because the light was just so bright and vivid. But then when I rewatched the video a few times, I could see that it was just something going through the sky.”
Florian said meteors can come from any direction.
“We get stuff falling on the Earth every single day — tons of it — but again, just being in the right place and right time to see something like this and getting these really large ones that create a very loud bang, you know, it’s reminiscent of what happened to Chelyabinsk in Russia,” he said.
That bright fireball on Feb. 15, 2013 lit up the morning sky, several times brighter than the sun, casting moving shadows as it crossed the sky.
Against the enormous stresses as it entered the atmosphere, the massive piece of rock began to break apart 30 kilometres above earth, sending out a sonic boom that shattered windows and injured nearly 1,000 people.
“This one here wasn’t as powerful because it did rattle things, from what I understand,” Florian said. “People further south of Edmonton did actually hear their windows rattling, their house kind of shake a bit.”
He did not hear or see it from his home on the northside, adding the reports he heard came from the southside and Leduc and Beaumont areas.
“I would kind of be leaning towards this thing coming down somewhere south or east of Leduc,” he said, adding he watched the Rocky Mountain House doorbell camera and believes it was heading east from that community towards the Edmonton region.
Florian said the University of Alberta has cameras that can sometimes detect where space rocks fall, but they need a clear sky to operate properly and it was cloudy Tuesday night.
“We’re really just going by what we see from doorbell cameras and, you know, eyewitness accounts of what they may have seen and if they actually heard anything from their location.”
Florian said because it gave off a loud boom, it most likely broke up into pieces.
“It’s probably within a 60-kilometre radius from Leduc. There might be fragments on the ground and if people are out and about, they might see some little black rocks sitting on top of the snow.”
Florian said there might be a couple of recoverable meteors that fall over Alberta each year.
“They’re not totally rare — but they’re rare enough that you have been right place, right time,” he said, adding they also have to land in an open space to be easily found.
“These pieces have to land somewhere where you’re not going to be going through, you know, dense bush and really rugged terrain.
“So the recovery of anything from these events is always a bit of a task.”
The American Meteor Society posted on its website that it had received a report “about a fireball seen over Alberta” from someone in Edmonton just after 9 p.m. The person reported that the light lasted about 7.5 seconds.
– with files from Nicole Mortillaro