FREWSBURG — Humankind was given three hours of notice before a space rock entered Earth’s atmosphere early Saturday morning.
The asteroid was a little over 2 feet across, according to SpaceWeather.com — not exactly an extinction level event. It was initially spotted by astronomer David Rankin in Arizona, who was conducting a routine survey.
According to SpaceWeather, most of the meteorites — pieces of the asteroid that didn’t completely burn up — likely landed in Lake Ontario. SpaceWeather described the event as a “deep hit.” Pieces up to 20 pounds are expected to have made it to the surface.
Seven observatories, including Martz-Kohl Observatory in Frewsburg, were able to capture images of the event as the asteroid disintegrated in the atmosphere.
“I submitted an image and report to the American Meteor Society on behalf of the Observatory,” Board Vice-President Tom Traub said. “It adds another organization that we give pertinent data to that enhances astronomical research.”
“The fact that we were able to capture this rare event is even better,” Traub said. “I have been working to get NASA to place one of their meteor observation network systems at the observatory for several years now. Hopefully in the future we can submit more images.”
The flash from the asteroid can be seen in the very corner of the observatory’s AllSky Camera. A video of the day’s capture is posted on the Martz-Kohl website — martzobservatory.org — under Observing, Control Room, AllSky Cam. The flash can be seen in a clear sky at about 3:25 a.m. on the recording of the night of Nov. 18. Thin clouds cover the skies over the observatory just an hour after the event.
“We at the observatory are excited,” Traub said. “We want to use events like this to inspire students and members to use the equipment and knowledge to do projects in astronomy or in some cases research projects.”
“This just opens up other possibilities for future opportunities to our local and regional youth,” he said. “We are in the process of holding a STEM space camp this summer at the observatory.”
The observatory has a history of working with local students. “We have had a senior high school student do a three-week internship at the observatory with observations and using equipment and software to produce astronomical images,” Traub said. “We have a student member who was at Jamestown Community College and now back in St. Petersburg, Russia, doing remote imaging and work using the telescopes robotic capabilities. We have another junior high school student whose brother was a member and active in astronomical research and he is interested in going into the astronomy field, also.”
Dozens of individuals, including one Rick D. in Tidioute, reported seeing the fireball event, according to the American Meteor Society at fireball.amsmeteors.org. While most of the sightings were reported from the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada area, they covered an area from Oswego, N.Y., to Allentown and northern Maryland to eastern Indiana to southeastern Lake Huron in Canada.
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