Thursday, February 19, 2009

Texas fireball leads to meteorite finds, other side effects

Several meteorites - one specimen already identified as a chondrite - have been recovered a few days after a spectacular daylight fireball was seen over Texas on February 15th. (Minutes after the event interesting radar echos had been detected high in the atmosphere, with the physical explanation less clear; there is also a report of a persistent smoke trail.) So this is an astronomy/planetary science story now - but it hadn't always been that way: While astronomically minded folks looking at the video of the fireball (also here from this source as well as here and here and on YouTube numerous times) immediately concluded that it had to be a meteor and not a satellite reentry, seemingly official claims that the sky show that something to do with the satellite collision five days earlier had momentarily confused even those who somehow knew it couldn't be - let alone the mass media often consulting the wrong 'experts'.

Even the New York Times spoke of a "mystery" with the "origin unknown" over a day after everything was clear! And carried only the wrong story for two days before having an update. The Texas fireball/meteorite dropper was thus also an interesting social study - and for the first hours it seems to have played out mainly on Twitter where it all started with this "news" tweet. Soon the story was all over the place, with a disturbing lack of "normal" news coverage - which followed eventually. News of what it really was had a hard time to percolate through the 'hive mind', though, and a day later "mystery" tales dominated the feeds.

Here's a sampling of the bewildered news stories to which a strange weather advisory and a mysterious NOTAM as well as a short-lived reentry scare in Canada certainly contributed, in roughly chronological order of their first publication (often they were then updated several times): AP, KEYE, WacoTrib, Fox, CNN, Houston Chr., My San Antonio, Dallas News, Star Telegram, Statesman and Bild, an iReport (using a file picture for illustration) and some other blog coverage (also here and here, where a blogger/reporter actually plotted the trajectory of the fireball). • Interestingly the Texas fireball was not the only one making news: Two days earlier there had been cases in Kentucky (more and an article) and Italy (the picture). • The first papers on the fresh Canadian meteorites of last year are out. • And a pioneer of NEO research has died already in January.

In other news the best viewing window for comet Lulin has begun: observations of Feb. 19 (more and also about a coma asymmetry), Feb. 18 (more), Feb. 17 (a spectacular animation from this site; also Slooh pictures first reported here), Feb. 16 (more; the comet was estimated at 5.3 mag. that day) and Feb. 15 (before that day the Moon was too bright and close), various observing reports, pictures on Flickr and many articles (more, more, more, more and more) plus a weird reaction by Lulin's discoverer ... • Comet 33P/Daniel underwent a small outburst and looked like this, but it's over. • Here is an impressive movie of the last penumbral lunar eclipse as seen from lunar orbit when the Earth rose with the Sun just emerging behind it!

• The more south you are the better these days: Today there was a Mercury/Mars/Jupiter trio visible in the morning sky from Oz where the new Jupiter season is beginning and one can see five planets during the night. • Saturn will experience a quadruple satellite transit on Feb. 24. • And Venus is brighter than ever and frequent UFO trigger now. • Did something strange happen to RX Lyrae last year as this picture may show? • CV V630 Cas may be acting up. • The 2nd Galaxy Zoo has been launched, with reports here, here, here, here, here and here. • on Flickr is making news. • A 150° star trail panorama from India, a Milky Way panorama from Mauna Kea, the zodiacal light from Tenerife, the coolest-looking observatories on Earth - and this blog and the related Twitter feed being hailed in the context of the Texas fireball, als is the Twitter feed here!

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