'Surprise event': Meteor streaks across Alberta sky Monday morning

According to the American Meteor Society, 42 unverified reports were made Monday morning for the fireball

A meteor streaks across the morning sky in Edmonton, AB on Monday Feb.22, 2021. (Supplied photo/Athabasca University, Athabasca University GeoSpace Observatory (AUGSO), Principal Investigator: Prof. Martin Connors)

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A fireball streaked across the Edmonton sky early Monday morning, setting social media abuzz.

The meteor flew across the sky around 6:23 a.m., lasting just a few seconds and appeared to give off a flash of blinding blue light.

According to the American Meteor Society, 42 unverified reports were made Monday morning for the fireball. While the majority of reports were concentrated in Alberta, there was one made as far south as Helena, Montana and as far east as Saskatoon.

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In footage recorded by Athabasca University’s GeoSpace Observatory’s all-sky cameras, the meteor can be seen as a flash across the screen, leaving behind a smoke trail.

“The smoke that you notice there, that’s happening quite high up, probably 30 or 40 kilometres up, and it’s being lit up with sunlight,” said Ian Schofield, observatory researcher at the university. “That would be bits of meteor dust, remnants of it disintegrating.”

Schofield said they don’t know how large the meteor was, but it could have been as much as 100 kilograms. They also don’t know if it was made of rock or ice — making it a comet — but the likelihood of recovering pieces is very low.

“If it’s a piece of cometary material, that’s pretty much impossible. Not to mention finding anything in northern Alberta is next to impossible because, well, we have trees,” he said. “It’s much easier to find things in barren landscapes like deserts or ice fields.”

A meteor streaks across the morning sky in Edmonton, AB on Monday Feb.22, 2021. (Supplied photo/Athabasca University, Athabasca University GeoSpace Observatory (AUGSO), Principal Investigator: Prof. Martin Connors)

Meteors can come in at high speeds ranging from 11 kilometres a second, or about 25,000 miles an hour, to 72 kilometres a second. But Schofield said they’re not able to tell how fast or which direction the meteor was coming from their cameras alone because the flash completely saturated the cameras.

“If we had two successive images that showed a discrete object or a streak, then we could probably extrapolate that but all we have is blue sky and then bang, it’s lit up completely,” he said.

“If you look at the imagery, it just overwhelmed the cameras. So this thing must have been coming in very fast and it gave off a lot of light, it incandesced extremely strong.”

They will have to rely on other researchers and imagery to get a better picture of how the meteor came in.

Patrick Hill, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta’s earth and atmospheric sciences said they will be processing any data from the meteor that may have been captured by their instruments.

He said while the anthelion radiant, a broad, weak source of meteors that are usually fewer than five per hour, is currently active, this meteor is most likely a “surprise event.”

ajunker@postmedia.com

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