Those “green UFOs” that caused a stir in Australia four years ago? Researchers say they definitely weren’t alien spaceships (not like they were going to say anything different), but they still aren’t sure what they actually were.
The three green fireballs were spotted by more than 100 people in the sky over Queensland, Australia on May 16th, 2006. The potential abductees said the lights were brighter than the moon, but not as bright as the sun. A single farmer claims to have seen one of the green balls bouncing down the side of a mountain after hitting the earth.
Stephen Hughes, a researcher at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, has just published a paper on the phenomenon in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A. He explained to LiveScience that the main fireballs were most likely caused by a meteor breaking up and burning in earth’s atmosphere:
In fact, a commercial airline pilot who landed in New Zealand that day reported seeing a meteor breaking up into fragments, which turned green as the bits descended in the direction of Australia. The timing of the fireballs suggests they might have been debris from Comet 73P/Schwassmann–Wachmann 3.
The chances of being struck by a meteorite are extremely small, but, according to Lajic, his home has served as meteorite target practice since 2007. According to The Telegraph, where we found this story, Lajic says that the rocks tend to come when it rains. Ok, sure–and maybe Paul the psychic octopus can predict when the next one will come hurtling down.
A Wired article from last year cites a 1991 study by The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada of worldwide meteorite strikes near humans and built structures. The study records only a total of 57 strikes on human infrastructure in the 20th century.
Never mind facts and statistics, though! Lajic has set up a meteorite museum in his backyard. The Telegraph also reports that he has paid for a steel girder for his home by selling the first of the meteorites and has now launched an investigation into the magnetic fields around his home. Maybe it would have been better to take the cash from the first rock and move?
Lajic’s explanation for his home’s apparent meteorite attraction is that aliens are out to get him. He told The Telegraph:
“I have no doubt I am being targeted by aliens…. They are playing games with me.”
Discoblog: Astronomers Identify the Mystery Meteor That Inspired Walt Whitman
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Bad Astronomy: Insurance from the skies!
Image: flickr / Tobin
It’s not often that an English professor co-authors an article in Sky and Telescope, but it’s not everyday that astronomers set out to uncover a poet’s muse. Researchers believe they have found the astronomical inspiration for the “strange huge meteor procession” in the poem “Year of Meteors. (1859-60.)” published in Walt Whitman‘s Leaves of Grass.
The investigators have determined that Whitman was waxing poetic about a rare event called an Earth-grazing meteor procession. An Earth-grazing meteor never hits our planet; as its name implies, it just visits, slicing through our atmosphere on its path. On this voyage, pieces of the meteor crumble off and head generally in the same direction (the “procession”), burning as they go and making a show to awe and inspire.
Noctilucent (“night-shining”) clouds hover at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, at altitudes of 76 to 85 km. They’re so high up that they reflect the sun even at night, producing an electric-blue glow. Now some scientists say these high-flying clouds may come with a metal lining – not made of silver, but of sodium and iron.
For the last two years, the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite mission has been studying noctilucent clouds, also known as polar mesospheric clouds. A curious property of these clouds is that they reflect radar, which scientists thought might be due to charged particles in the clouds. But new mathematical calculations published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres by Paul Bellan, a physicist at Caltech, suggests the reflections could be due to a thin layer of metal coating the clouds.