Fireball lights up the sky: South African division

By Phil Plait | November 30, 2009 12:00 pm

A little while back, a bright fireball lit up the evening sky in Utah. There was a repeat performance just last week, on November 21, this time in South Africa. A CCTV camera captured the dramatic scene:

If you happened to see this fireball and got footage, the local news wants to see it. The more footage that’s available, the better scientists can understand the meteoroid that burned up, including getting a trajectory and possibly even an orbit for it.

I’ll add that the Utah and African events are almost certainly unrelated; they happened days apart. At orbital speeds, that means the two objects were probably millions of kilometers apart in space, and so most likely coincidental.

MORE ABOUT: fireball, South Africa

Comments (22)

  1. Gary Ansorge

    Man, that’s a BIG flash.

    I wonder if, after such a big one one, there are panicked calls about a nuc going off?

    I’d love to be able to see this from the viewpoint of an overhead (earth viewing) sat. NSA? CIA? Do you have pics?(Secrecy my patooty. You guys work for ME. Remember?)

    Gary 7

  2. Is it just me though… Or have these reports and videos just started popping up like crazy during the last year. Have there been unusualy many events lately or is this just because of growing public interest in all things space?

    Just a couple of weeks ago there was a report(and at least one video) on a fireball here in Iceland. The university dutifully recorded all the reports and concluded that given the timings and description that these were most likely 3 unrelated events the same night. Given the long, and often still, nights here in Iceland during the winter then seeing these things isn’t that unusual but still I’ve been hearing more and more about this.

  3. Gary Ansorge

    2. Jon Gretar Says:

    “,,,Have there been unusualy many events lately,,,”

    As Phil pointed out in a previous post on this subject, with all the video cams and camera phones currently flooding the world, we’ll likely see an exponential increase in these types of photos. Only after the whole planet is wired for active video and we have a decade long baseline to compare the reports will we be able to answer your question but my “intuition” says it’s probably been this way for a long time, we’re just getting to the point where we can record them for posterity.

    (or maybe it’s just god warming up for an 8 ball in the side pocket)

    Gary 7

  4. I wonder if, after such a big one one, there are panicked calls about a nuc going off?

    Of course, if they had any idea about nukes, then they should know that if the phones work to call it in, it probably wasn’t a nuke. ūüėČ

  5. It’s an attack by Klendathu!

  6. Coincidence? Feh! It’s all a warm-up for 2012!

    Oh, just in case: :-)

  7. JoeSmithCA

    Sheesh, what is the deal with the nuclear weapon assumptions.

    Meteor/Orbital Debresis Explosion
    Large Flash
    Large Bang
    Possible cold debris or meteorites on ground afterwords.

    Nuclear Weapon (effects vary on size of weapon)
    Large Flash
    Large Bang
    EM effects (power outtage in region, telephone outtage)
    Radiation Effects in region
    Fallout effects in region
    People with flash blindness
    People with radiation sickness
    1st to 3rd degree burns
    localized to widespread fires

    Failed Nuclear Weapon Explosion
    possible Large Flash
    Possible Large Bang
    large area covered in radioactive material
    People with radiation sickness

  8. @Gary Ansorge: Yeah I get that. But police dash cams and security cameras are not exactly new things I doubt there has been some incredible growth only in the last 2 years. Thats why I’m wondering if it’s more of an public interest thing.

  9. Gary Ansorge

    8. Jon Gretar:

    Interest growth is a likely contributor, what with movies like Deep Impact, Armageddon, 2012,etc, but one must also consider the effect of popular gadgets, like the iPhone. Darned near everyone I know has a cell phone with camera(at least, in those countries with an advantaged middle class) and the popularity of these produces a mad scramble by companies to cash in, so there are literally tens of millions of these video devices being created over the last few years. So we have a near exponential growth in video tech and international fascination with the sky. That PROBABLY explains why we’re seeing so many more. (Of course, there’s always the possibility we’re seeing more because there really ARE more but w/o a good baseline we really can’t make a didactic statement one way or the other. Yet!)

    6. Ken B:

    The thing is, a nuc going off over the horizon, say, 100 miles away, wouldn’t have all those additional effects. At least, not so obviously. Sound from such an explosion would take 500 seconds to reach us and would be seriously attenuated. Fallout would be mostly local, as would flash burns, etc.

    I was just referring to the number of folk who might jump to erroneous conclusions based on the flash and I expect there could be some. Just wondering if anyone had paid any attention to such.

    GAry 7

  10. FC

    Speaking of 2012, I saw the movie 2012 yesterday. There’s some serious Eye Candy to be had in there. I’m pretty sure the science was 95% baloney but it “looked” science-like anyway. I had to stifle a laugh when I heard the astrophysicist talk about neutrinos “mutating”. I think that the writer was probably thinking nuclear transmutation but even then that’s WAY off the mark, neutrinos aren’t atoms!

  11. Chris Sham

    I was driving in the north-west of Johannesburg when I saw it, but it was a slightly stormy night, and I assumed it was just a flash of unusually bright lightning. I didn’t hear anything unusual. It wasn’t until I saw that video a few days later that I realised that the time of the event, the duration of the flash and the direction I was looking all matched up. Things like nukes didn’t even occur to me, although perhaps if I had been further north, towards Pretoria, and hadn’t been driving, I would have seen and heard more.

  12. ND

    I was thinking the same thing as Jon Gratar given that police cams have been around for a while. But then again occurrences are never evenly spread out. The recent back-to-back reports could be in line with yearly averages of fireballs but clumped close together in time.

    But of course as fate would have it I’ll never see one. I still haven’t seen the northern lights even when they’ve been visible at my latitudes.

  13. Steve13

    These are obviously publicity stunts for the movie 2012.

  14. The South African bolide was captured by a number of different video cameras – I linked to several clips – but probably not as many as in the Utah case just three days earlier. These videos have already become a common sight.

  15. Brian Too

    I can’t help but wonder, if the Big One ever came in, would this be the sort of thing we’d see? You know, the End of the World and all?

    I heard a rumour that Phil might have written a book about such matters, but I laughed that one off. That’s about as likely as, say, a supernova going off close enough to be a problem!

  16. JETHRO


  17. Seriously, what are the chances of that many meteoroids in such a short time? A much more likely explanation is a world wide conspiracy to cover up multiple nuclear strike attempts by Obama loyalists who are trying to intimidate other governments into making concessions in Copenhagen now that the it’s been proven that climate scientists are completely making up all of the global warming data. Think about it…Utah, Iceland, and South Africa. What do they all have in common? They are all MAJOR roadblocks in the quest for the climate laws that could open the door for a totalitarian world government. Nuke them and the rest of the world would HAVE to fall in line.

    Wow, I can see how crazy could be addictive. That was fun.

  18. James

    I’ll say the same thing I always say when someone points out that there have been a lot of planecrashes recently, or a lot of earthquakes, or – in this case – a lot of meteoric fireballs:

    Of course these things come in clusters. That’s a good thing. It would be much more terrifying if they started happening at… precisely… predictable… intervals….

  19. Chanelle

    Was it just a coincidence that they both had 2 bright flashes or is that something that is common to fireball type meteors in general? What causes the bright flash? Is it something to do with the makeup of the meteor itself or is it an effect of passing through different parts of the atmosphere? Anyone know?

  20. Levi in NY

    I would guess that the bright flash is caused by the object blowing itself up, as larger meteors tend to do. But I am not an astronomer and could be wrong.

  21. Elias Tandel

    Is it Planet X? A solid rock mass-gaining HUGE comet? The Iranians nuking the World?
    No, it’s the wake of Cthulhu!

    Hahaha. Anyways, nice video. I wish I could see live a big flash like this.

    Hail from Brazil!

  22. Vincent Chaparro

    I find this interesting becuase around the time this was video taped I noticed seeing alot of shooting stars here in West Texas. I would love to be able to see such an explosion in person. I wonder how often events like this happen?


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