Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Meteor Sighting Thrills Astronomers

Apr 26 2005 05:22 PM CDTCBC News

WINNIPEG – Local stargazing experts have been fielding dozens of calls from people who spotted a massive meteor in the daytime sky over western Manitoba on Saturday.

Scott Young of the Manitoba Museum's planetarium says calls are coming in "fast and furious" from people who saw or heard the meteor, which passed over Riding Mountain before exploding high over the St. Ambroise area, north of Portage la Prairie.

"About half the people only heard it because of the sonic boom – the explosion – and people were thinking maybe it's a plane crash or something like that. They ran outside and would see this cloud of smoke that was expanding in the upper atmosphere that was visible for tens of minutes," says Young.

"The people who saw it described it as a flaming baseball or a Roman candle with all sorts of flames and trailing smoke arching across the sky and then detonating in a final explosion. Sounds like a spectacular sight."

Young says this type of spectacle doesn't happen very often.

"We've been trying to find other references to meteors that were bright enough to be seen in the daytime, and there's a handful throughout all recorded history in the Prairies at all. There was one in Manitoba maybe 20 years ago," he says.

"It's a very rare kind of thing. Most of the meteors that we see at night are just little grains of sand, and a really bright one might be the size of a marble. But this was probably the size of a suitcase."

Young hopes more people will contact him to say where they were and what direction they were looking when they saw the space rock hurtling through the sky, so he can pinpoint the exact details of the meteor's path.

"What we need to do is get a bunch of reports, put them all together and that will help us narrow down the search area for looking for pieces," he says. "Almost certainly this event would have produced at least one sizeable chunk of meteorite which would have made it to the ground, and we'd like to find it."