A photo of a fireball shot by Johnson Greg and uploaded to the American Meteor Society. Courtesy of www.amsmeteors.org

Fireballs and Jupiter, all you have to do is look up

Penticton astronomer said lots of neat things to see in the sky on a clear night

As several sightings of fireballs lighting up the night skies have been reportedly recently, a Penticton astronomer said it is nothing out of the ordinary.

“It is fairly typical this time of year. We have dark, clear nights now. It’s not too cold out so people are staying outside longer,” said Ken Tapping, an astronomer with the NRC’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, located just south of Penticton in White Lake. “I saw one just a few weeks ago myself. I was actually outside looking for the cat and happened to look up and see it. It is just a reminder to people to look up at the sky every once and awhile.”

Sightings were recently reported in the past few days and weeks in several areas in the southern portion of B.C. and into Washington State to the American Meteor Society website amsmeteors.org, saying it took their breath away.

Tapping said typically what people see is a meteorite, a tiny as a grain of sand that can be travelling up to 100,000 kilometres per hour streaking across the sky. He said a fireball, which can be the size of a baseball and larger, is much more noticeable causing a flash in the sky.

“Some are made of stone, solid iron or nickel and sometimes ice. It really is the texture of a cigarette ash holding it all together,” he said.

Tapping added that while we orbit around in a nice, orderly, circular fashion, fireballs are more elliptical in that they orbit out to the sun, way out into space and then cross back into the Earth’s orbit.

“On occasion the little bits of material all collides and can grow bigger and bigger, just like how the planets came together as lumps of stuff colliding. Then it crosses our orbit and we may see it, or it even may hit our ground,” said Tapping.

A network of cameras across North America can sometimes help provide information on a meteor or fireball as to which direction it is going and how fast.

Tapping said there are other things at this time of year that are a little easier to catch if you look up.

“It is worth keeping your eye on the Eastern horizon for the planet Jupiter. If you have a pair binoculars you can most likely get a good view of it on a clear night. You will see its biscuit coloured rings. I saw it while on the back deck a few days ago. The four largest moons hanging just like beads on a wire,” said Tapping. “It is spectacular. Some people can even see it with the naked eye.”

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