Possible Meteor/Meteorite Wednesday Evening in Central Illinois

Beginning around 1025 pm Wednesday evening, April 14, the NWS in Central Illinois received numerous reports of a bright object falling from the sky somewhere in Central Illinois. However, as close as the object appeared to the people of Central Illinois... the object was much further away than it appeared.  For the rest  of the evening... reports poured into National Weather Service offices from St. Louis, Missouri to Milwuakee, Wisconsin. 

The reports have described an event very similar to what a meteorite scenario might look like. The exact location any possible impact has been very difficult to discern, or whether or not the object in question has even reached the ground. 

Meteorites (meteors that reach the earth's surface) do not 'burn' all the way to the earth's surface.  According to the American Meteor Society, "at some point, usually between 15 to 20 km (9-12 miles or 48,000-63,000 feet) altitude, the meteoroid remnants will decelerate to the point that the ablation process stops, and visible light is no longer generated. This occurs at a speed of about 2-4 km/sec (4500-9000 mph). From that point onward, the stones will rapidly decelerate further until they are falling at their terminal velocity, which will generally be somewhere between 0.1 and 0.2 km/sec (200 mph to 400 mph). Moving at these rapid speeds, the meteorite(s) will be essentially invisible during this final "dark flight" portion of their fall."
(Definition of ablation: The dissipation of heat generated by atmospheric friction, especially in the atmospheric reentry of a spacecraft or missile, by means of a melting heat shield)

The reports have described an extremely bright object flying rapidly through the sky, even breaking into several smaller objects, before possibly reaching the ground. No additional reports have been received of any damage on the ground.  Although most meteors burn up while passing through the earth's atmosphere, some will blaze a trail across the sky, rivaling the sun in its intensity.  Certainly this event qualifies by looking at the video below passed along from the NWS Quad Cities forecast office courtesy of KWWL out of Iowa.  The video is from a Howard County, Iowa, Sheriff.  

The fireball was also caught on a webcam from UW-Madison AOS/SSEC.  

The National Weather Service does not verify if meteorite activity has occurred.  However, several NWS offices have some very interesting video/information/pictures on their webpages, as well as some screen captures of the dust/smoke trail left behind the fireball being caught on radar.  Here are some links to the surrounding offices' stories:
National Weather Service Quad Cities
National Weather Service Milwuakee
National Weather Service La Crosse

This is a bit of an early start for the next expected meteor shower event, as the Lyrids are supposed to start in a couple of days.  However, meteor enthusiasts have said that they will be active from the 16th of April until the 28th with their peak on the 22nd.  Some dates for expected meteor showers for 2010 are listed below.

   Name                     Date of Peak                                Moon
Lyrids                       nights of April 21/22                   Sets around 3-4 a.m.
Eta Aquarids           night of May 5                              Rises around 3 a.m.
Perseids                 night of August 12                       Sets around 10 p.m.
Orionids                  night of October 21                     Full
Leonids                   night of November 17               Sets around 4 a.m.
Geminids                night of December 13               Sets around midnight

*NOTES* These are approximate times for the Lower 48 states; actual shower times can vary. Bright moonlight makes it difficult to see all but the brightest meteors.

For additional information about Meteorites, goto the NASA website  http://www.nasa.gov/worldbook/meteor_worldbook.html 
and The American Meteor Society.


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