Fireball Breakup

January 14, 2011

MeteorFireball_breakup 
Photographer: John Chumack
Summary Author: John Chumack; Jim Foster

January 2011 Earth Science Picture of the Day Viewer's Choice

While trying to take a picture of fleet Mercury in the glow of a magenta sunset a number of years ago, I instead captured something much more elusive; a meteor breaking up upon entering our atmosphere. I recall that just as I opened the camera’s shutter, in the backyard of my home in Yellow Springs, Ohio, this brilliant fireball exploded in the field of view. According to the International Astronomical Union, in order to qualify as a fireball a meteor must be brighter than any of the planets (Venus attains a magnitude of -4). To this day, I can say that this was the brightest and best meteor breakup I've been able to capture either digitally or on film. Photo taken on September 21, 1994.

Photo details: Pentax K1000 camera; 50 mm lens, Ektar100 35 mm film. The exposure was unrecorded but was likely about one to four seconds. Scanned with Nikon CoolScan 9000 film scanner.