Fire from the fireball? I doubt it.

By Phil Plait | February 16, 2009 4:00 pm

Fox news (I know, I know) out of Dallas/Ft. Worth Texas is speculating that a small grass fire may have been caused by the fireball yesterday. I doubt it, though. Watch the video first.

First kudos to the news for finally saying that the fireball was not due to the satellite collision. Even then, there’s still some confusion: MSNBC online reports it wasn’t from the satellites, but MSNBC TV has video of reporters speculating it is; some debris has been found, but since I’m positive the fireball is unrelated to the satellites, the debris is probably just something that blew around from a construction site or something and onto a field:

.msnbcLinks {font-size:11px; font-family:Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; color: #999; margin-top: 5px; background: transparent; text-align: center; width: 425px;} .msnbcLinks a {text-decoration:none !important; border-bottom: 1px dotted #999 !important; font-weight:normal !important; height: 13px;} .msnbcLinks a:link, .msnbcLinks a:visited {color: #5799db !important;} .msnbcLinks a:hover, .msnbcLinks a:active {color:#CC0000 !important;}

That pipe in the field doesn’t look quite damaged enough to have fallen through the atmosphere at Mach 20, don’t you think?

I’ll add that some in the mainstream media are crowing a wee bit early and incorrectly about all this, like this guy who says that bloggers and twitterers all got it wrong… hey dude, not all of us did.

However, the fire in the Fox video is most likely coincidence. Meteorites are generally not hot enough to start fires when they impact. They slow down to subsonic speeds quickly (which is why the outer parts get so hot and they glow), but then take several more minutes falling through frigid air before hitting the ground; plenty of time to cool off. You need a pretty big object to start a fire, and that would leave an impressive crater. Most likely the fire is a coincidence.

If they do find meteoric debris in that fire after they investigate it, it’ll be in the news. But I bet if they don’t it’ll be relegated to some back page of a newspaper someplace. We’ll see.

I’ll add that even though I have slowly but surely had a growing contempt for much of old media, this event has prodded me further along. Somehow, covering this event faster, more accurately, and better than any newspaper or local news station, but still being made fun of for being just "a blogger" doesn’t make me feel confident that a lot of the people still entrenched in the old media have a clue about teh intertoobz.

Present company excluded, of course. The folks at Discover Magazine get it, and I’m glad they do.

Tip o’ the Whipple Shield to Patrick R. Mullen and Fark.


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