Explaining the 'fireballs' in Maritime skies

Haley Ryan jhoegg@kingscountynews.ca
Published on March 19, 2014

A bright light is captured by Nova Scotia Webcams' near the Masstown Market March 18.                

©Nova Scotia Webcams


A large flash that appeared in the sky early in the mornings of March 18 and 19 had dozens of Nova Scotians talking, but a local science guru said the cause is “not so mysterious.”

Almost 24-hours after scores of Nova Scotians, New Brunswickers and Prince Edward Islanders reported see a fireball in the sky on a trajectory headed north, a second fireball is being reported this morning in Nova Scotia.

Witnesses in Halifax are reporting the second fireball, which passed overhead at approximately 5:17 a.m., broke into three pieces before disappearing over the horizon.

It was the second strange sky phenomenon spotted in two days. Cumberland County resident Scott Miller got quite a surprise early March 18 when he looked out his window overlooking Baie Verte and the Northumberland Strait.

He was one of several thousand Maritimers to see a fireball streaking out of the sky at approximately 5 a.m. that day.

“I look out the window at my neighbour’s and out onto the bay when all of  a sudden I saw this bright light falling out of the sky,” Miller said. “It was like a giant fireball, it was yellowish, orange in colour and it was bright. It was moving really fast.”

Police in Nova Scotia confirmed someone from the Chester area reported a “fireball” in the sky at 5:09 a.m., but weren’t sure what it was from.

“We don’t know. It’s a mystery,” quipped RCMP spokesman Cpl. Al LeBlanc.

The fireball was a bolide, according to science expert Richard Zurawski.

He said a bolide is a piece of rock or metal falling from space that glows when it burns up in the atmosphere, and its kinetic energy is transferred to heat and light.

“It’s a pretty typical thing. Seeing it over the Maritimes is a little unusual, but this happens thousand of times probably every 24 hours,” said Zurawski, a meteorologist with Rogers News 95.7 radio in Halifax.

Tuesday morning’s bolide came from a southerly direction headed north, he said, and they can last up to five or six seconds with a long, bright tail depending on how big the chunk of space debris was.

“It goes from 20 to 40 kilometres a second,” Zurawski said, and are usually the size of a human head or larger.

Some people have found pieces of bolides that reach the ground, which are then known as meteorites, he said.

Although many of these fall to earth every day, Zurawski said it’s unusual for people to spot one because there’s so much unpopulated space in the Arctic tundra, ocean or desert where they could land.

“It’s rare on one hand, and on the other hand it’s sort of a common thing.”

Zurawski said a lot of the fascination people have with meteors or unusual phenomenon is because we’re “divorced from nature in so many ways” and don’t always pay attention to what’s happening in the sky.

“When something does happen we start saying ‘Oh, gee, that’s interesting’ … and it’s not Star Trek,” said Zurawski.

With files from TC Media