Fire at Auckland Warehouse Caused by Meteorite Impact? (Update)

Update (16:00 PST Dec. 14th): Eyewitness accounts are becoming more detailed, if you were in the Auckland area at 10pm (December 13th) and you saw something, please let me know (by leaving a comment below). Please give as detailed an account as possible, including your location and the direction at which you saw the meteorite. Hopefully we’ll piece this event together…

Auckland warehouse fire. Meteorite or foul play? (Paul Tonkin)
Auckland warehouse fire. Meteorite or foul play? (Paul Tonkin)

A fire erupted in an Auckland warehouse shortly after several eyewitness reported seeing a meteorite over the North Island of New Zealand. One witness (named “Mike”) even went as far to say that he watched the fiery object hit the Ponsonby area of the city, followed by an exploding noise.

The time of the several eyewitness reports (not amateur astronomer reports I want to point out) and the start of the blaze appears to correlate (although the local media is a little sketchy about the details at the moment). Apparently the fire caused serious roof damage to the warehouse and there was one minor casualty (a man who happened to be in the building at the time). However, none of the surrounding buildings were touched.

The meteorite was observed at around 10pm last night, and the fire was eventually extinguished at 11:30pm.
Continue reading “Fire at Auckland Warehouse Caused by Meteorite Impact? (Update)”

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Yet Another Fireball and Explosion, Over Colorado

Video of the fireball event over Colorado (Chris Peterson)
Video of the fireball event over Colorado (Chris Peterson)

Early this morning, a huge explosion lit up the Colorado skies. According to one observatory that videoed the event with its ever-watching all-sky camera, the fireball (or bolide) peak brightness (magnitude -18) exceeded the brightness of a full Moon 100 times. An awesome event. The Cloudbait Observatory, near Denver, is calling on eye-witnesses to submit their reports so possible meteorite fragments can be found on the ground. Only last month, a similar effort resulted in Canadian meteorite hunters finding over two dozen fragments from the Saskatchewan fireball.

For all the information about the Colorado event, check out my Universe Today article Exploding Colorado Fireball, 100 Times Brighter than the Moon (Video).

I must admit though (as one of my readers pointed out), it is surprising to hear about this recent flurry of large fireball events. Some of these meteoroids are as big as 10 tonnes (in the case of the Saskatchewan fireball), and scattered meteorites are being found on the ground (fortunately over sparsely populated regions). Are these recent series of fireball spottings down to improved observation techniques and a bit of luck? After all, the October fireball was observed directly over several all-sky cameras dedicated to spotting meteors; the November fireball was seen by a huge number of people in cities across the Saskatchewan/Alberta border and last night’s fireball appeared above another dedicated meteor all-sky camera.

A few of these events are expected every year, so this is certainly nothing to be concerned about, we’re just getting better at observing these transient events…

Blogosphere Canadian Fireball Updates

University of Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley poses with a fragment of a meteorite in a small pond near Lloydminster, Sask. (AP)
University of Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley poses with a fragment of a meteorite in a small pond near Lloydminster, Sask. (AP)

Although I am still in Las Vegas enjoying the Thanksgiving aftermath, I wanted to give an update of the Canadian fireball that dramatically exploded over the Saskatchewan skies last week.

Having read though some of the updates across the space blogosphere, I thought it would be good to give the event a brief run-down via the pile of space blogs that have been following this surprise explosion and resulting discovery of meteorite fragments near Lloydminster, Saskatchewan…
Continue reading “Blogosphere Canadian Fireball Updates”

Apollo Astronaut Highlights Threat of Asteroid Impact

In a renewed attempt to bring the concern about a potential asteroid strike to the world’s attention, former Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart briefed UN officials on Tuesday about a report entitled “Asteroid Threats: A Call for Global Response.” The report has been drawn up by the International Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation (IPATM), formed by space explorers and scientists in an effort to put a contingency plan into action to limit the devastation caused by a theoretical impact.

The key point here is that the IPATM is not predicting an immediate catastrophic asteroid collision, it merely wants the UN to recognise there is a danger out there and to enact procedures to save lives and possibly remove the threat all together…
Continue reading “Apollo Astronaut Highlights Threat of Asteroid Impact”

High Resolution Earth Rise Video by Kaguya (SELENE)

A little bit of beautiful - the Earth rises over the lunar horizon (JAXA)
A little bit of beautiful - the Earth rises over the lunar horizon (JAXA)

Using its High Definition Television (HDTV) camera, the Japanese lunar probe Kaguya captured an astounding video of the Earth slowly rising above the lunar horizon. The video was actually released at the start of this month, but it has only just come to my attention. The video was recorded on September 30th, as the probe orbited 100 km above the Moon. Stunning.

See the tele-view “Full-Earth Rise” »

See the wide-angle Earth-set »

Read more about “Full-Earth Rise” »

Asteroids (1) : Earth (2) – Welcome to the Interplanetary Shooting Gallery

Rocks are being thrown at us, but we haven’t noticed

Artist impression of an asteroid impact - don't worry, this doesn't happen very often... (Getty Images)
Artist impression of an asteroid impact - don't worry, this doesn't happen very often... (Getty Images)

On October 7th, a small asteroid called 2008 TC3 exploded in the skies above Sudan. On October 9th, a metre-wide asteroid named 2008 TS26 buzzed Earth’s atmosphere by only 7000 km. Then on the 21st (Tuesday) a slightly bigger piece of rock called 2008 US missed us by 25,000 km. It sounds like it’s getting dangerous out there, especially when considering the last recorded object (2004 FU162) to come screaming past the Earth (at 6500 km) happened in 2004.

But don’t be concerned. Small asteroids are being thrown at us all the time; asteroid hunters are just getting better at spotting them…
Continue reading “Asteroids (1) : Earth (2) – Welcome to the Interplanetary Shooting Gallery”

First Image of Asteroid TC3 Impact Fireball… From Space

2008 TC3 generates a huge fireball according to weather satellite Meteosat 8 (Zdenek Charvat, Czech Hydrometeorological Institute)
2008 TC3 generates a huge fireball according to weather satellite Meteosat 8 (Zdenek Charvat, Czech Hydrometeorological Institute)

There may not be any ground-based imagery of the 1.1-2.1 kT fireball after asteroid 2008 TC3 hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere above Sudan, but we now have the first satellite observation of the impact. 2008 TC3 (a.k.a. “Brian” as I lovingly named it in my previous post) hit at 02:43am (UTC) yesterday morning, three minutes before the predicted re-entry. This is a huge moment for asteroid hunters: 2008 TC3 is the first ever asteroid to be discovered and accurately forecast to hit our planet.

The above image was taken by the weather satellite Meteosat 8, as Jiri Borovicka of the Czech Academy of Sciences explains: “The explosion was visible in all 12 of the satellite’s spectral channels, covering wavelengths from 0.5 to 14 microns,” he said. “The satellite takes pictures every five minutes; the fireball appeared at 0245 UTC and had faded away by 0250 UTC.”

It’s great to finally see the explosion of the first ever predicted asteroid impact. I think we all feel a little safer now

Source: Space Weather

Historic Asteroid 2008 TC3 Hits Earth as Predicted

Predicted region of atmospheric impact according to infrasound observations (Peter Brown, University of Western Ontario)
Predicted region of atmospheric impact according to infrasound observations (Peter Brown, University of Western Ontario)

2008 TC3 wasn’t a particularly interesting asteroid. It wasn’t very big (only 1-5 metres wide) and it didn’t really stand out as being special (if it was special, we didn’t have any time to realise it anyway). If 2008 TC3 was in a crowd of other asteroids you wouldn’t have picked it out. In fact, it was that “normal” that it wasn’t named, it just kept its original asteroid designation number. 2008 TC3 was an ordinary piece of space rock in an extraordinary situation.

This was the first ever asteroid that astronomers were able to track and predict (with high precision) where and when it was going to hit Earth. Sure enough, astronomers using the Mt. Lemmon telescope in Arizona as part of the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey for near-Earth objects discovered 2008 TC3 before it hit Earth, enabling us to be forewarned a whole six hours before impact. If the object was any larger, astronomers will have (for the first time) been able to warn people on the surface, thus saving lives.

In fact, asteroid 2008 TC3 is so special that I’m going to give it an unofficial name: Asteroid Brian*.
Continue reading “Historic Asteroid 2008 TC3 Hits Earth as Predicted”

Last Look at GOCE Before Being Sealed Inside Rockot

The last look at GOCE before it is packed away inside the rocket two half-shells (ESA)
The last look at GOCE before it is packed away inside the rocket two half-shells (ESA)

As you probably know, I am a huge fan of the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) as it is the sleekest, most aesthetically pleasing spacecraft I have ever seen. Rather than looking like a generic satellite, GOCE has been constructed in the shape of an aerodynamic spaceship as its orbit is so low that atmospheric drag will be a factor. Adding to the wow! factor is the GOCE ion engine giving a small but steady thrust to make sure GOCE doesn’t lose altitude during its Sun-synchronous orbit. Combine all these factors with the incredibly advanced science it will be carrying out during its 20 month lifetime, this is about as advanced as a terrestrial satellite can get.

So, ahead of its launch on September 10th, GOCE has been packed safely inside the Breeze-KM Upper Stage at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Next time the craft sees light will be three-minutes after launch in six days time…
Continue reading “Last Look at GOCE Before Being Sealed Inside Rockot”

CryoSat-2, a Satellite that Looks Like a Shed, Doing Science in the Freezer

Cryosat-2. Resembles something Da Vinci would design (ESA)
Cryosat-2. Resembles something Da Vinci would have designed (ESA)

ESA Cryosat-2 is set for launch in 2009 and it is the second attempt at getting the technology into orbit. Back in 2005, the original CryoSat was lost after a rocket malfunction caused it to fall short of the desired orbit, but much like the Phoenix Mars Lander story (i.e. it rose from the ashes of the lost Mars Polar Lander mission, recycled spare parts and reassembled the robot), Cryosat will fly once more. So what makes this mission so important? Well, it will carry out an essential three-year survey, measuring the thickness of global ice sheets.

But why am I really mentioning it? Like many ESA missions, the designs of their satellites and robots are so cool, and Cryosat-2 is no different. From some angles it looks like a sturdy intergalactic battleship, from others it looks like it was painstakingly designed by Da Vinci. Sometimes it even looks like a flying shed. In my books, that’s one interesting satellite. The science isn’t bad either…
Continue reading “CryoSat-2, a Satellite that Looks Like a Shed, Doing Science in the Freezer”