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Two bright fireballs flashed over the Prairies, almost exactly one night apart – The Weather Network

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They came from completely different parts of the sky. Still, one night apart — nearly down to the minute — two bright meteor fireballs flashed over the Prairie provinces this week.

At 9:48 p.m. Central Time, on the night of Tuesday, March 22, witnessed spied a very bright meteor streaking across the sky.

According to the American Meteor Society, the fireball began around 40 kilometres north of Erwood, SK, just east of Highway 9 in the eastern part of the province. Then, for about 5 seconds, it blazed towards the southwest before winking out at a point just west of Fosston, SK, nearly 200 kilometres away.

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This map from the American Meteor Society plots the track of the March 22, 2022 fireball over southeastern Saskatchewan (blue arrow). The coloured splotches indicate the “heat map” of observers, with darker colours representing a higher concentration of witnesses who reported the event. Credit: AMS

Based on witness reports, the event was seen as far away as North Dakota, southern Manitoba, and northern Saskatchewan. Even someone from the village of Empress, on the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta, spotted it.

Storm spotter Nick Schenher captured the fireball on his front door camera from Regina, SK.

If that wasn’t amazing enough, the very next night, on Wednesday, March 23, at nearly the same exact time — 9:47 p.m. CT — a second meteor fireball was spotted.

Unlike the one from the previous night, this meteoroid appeared to plunge almost directly downward from space. Based on this, it was entirely unrelated to Tuesday night’s fireball, as the two originated from different points in space.

Alix and Jason Cruickshank caught this one on video from their home in Winnipeg, MB.

Fireballs like this are caused when pieces of rock or ice (meteoroids) plunge into Earth’s atmosphere from space, travelling at speeds of up to hundreds of thousands of kilometres per hour. As it ploughs through the upper atmosphere, a meteoroid compresses the air in its path, which heats the air up so much that it glows. This results in the meteor flash we see in the sky. Given that they occur at altitudes of 50 to 80 km above the ground, a particularly bright flash is typically visible for hundreds of kilometres around.

The meteor flash ends either when the meteoroid is completely vaporized by the heat or when the meteoroid slows enough that it can no longer compress the air to the point of incandescence.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

Seeing Tuesday night’s meteor fireball was rare enough.

“A fireball this big and bright is exceptionally rare for a person to see,” Scott Young, the planetarium astronomer at the Manitoba Museum, told CBC Manitoba on Wednesday.

“If you’re a devoted sky watcher and you spend your whole life, you might be lucky to see two. But I mean, it really is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Witnessing two fireballs from the same location, on two nights in a row… that has to be exceptionally rare. Right?

Based on the American Meteor Society reports, only one person of the 45 witnesses who saw the Tuesday night fireball — Trevor Bryant, from Brandon, MB — also managed to spot evidence of the Wednesday night event.

Bryant’s webcam captured a great view of the first fireball (embedded below). However, it only managed to record an extremely brief flash of light from the second, as the meteor occurred outside the camera’s point of view.

Watch below: See the March 22 Saskatchewan fireball, as seen from Brandon, MB (at 0:23 of the video)

Witnessing a fireball isn’t just a matter of being outside and looking up.

Fireballs occur randomly, so they can happen at any time (but more on that below). First, it needs to be dark enough to see it, or the fireball has to be bright enough to spot in the light of day. Second, your timing of exactly where you are looking needs to be spot on. These events are here and gone in just a matter of seconds. So, even looking down at your cellphone, turning your head to talk to someone, or moving so a building or trees suddenly block your view of that exact part of the sky could cause you to miss it. Third, you actually need to be able to see the open sky. Clouds in the area could cause even a super-bright fireball to go unnoticed.

So, seeing two meteors like this, almost exactly one night apart, is remarkable.

However, according to Denis Vida, a meteor physics postdoctoral researcher at Western University, the timing of these two may not be all that rare after all.

In an email to The Weather Network, Vida pointed to research written back in 1982 by Canadian meteor astronomers Ian Halliday and Arthur Griffin.

In their paper, Halliday and Griffin gathered what we knew at the time about where meteorites come from — the typical orbits that meteoroids follow around the Sun before they hit Earth. They then used that information to determine when we are most likely to see these meteorite falls, based on the season, the time of day, and our latitude.

Summing up the results, Vida said that “we’ll observe the greatest number of falls during the spring, between sundown and 12 a.m.”

Given that we are just days after the spring equinox, Vida added, we are right at the peak of yearly meteorite fall activity. Plus, when these two fireballs were seen, right around 9:47 p.m. local time, is also right around the peak time of day for this latitude on Earth.

Related: Got your hands on a space rock? Here’s how to know for sure

COULD THERE BE METEORITES?

The typical meteor flash in the sky is caused by a micrometeoroid — probably about the size of a grain of sand — which tends to completely vapourize when it hits the atmosphere. Bright fireballs like these two, on the other hand, are produced by larger objects. The larger a meteoroid is, and the slower it travels through the atmosphere, the greater the chance that part of it could survive to reach the ground.

That’s when there’s a possibility of finding meteorites.

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According to Vida, simply based on how long the two fireballs last, it’s possible that perhaps around 100 grams of meteorites may have hit the ground from each. However, more analysis would be necessary to know for sure.

Finding meteorites in Canada is often quite difficult, though. Snow on the ground can make this easier. The scorched black exterior typical of meteorites stands out quite well against the white surface. However, in areas with plenty of trees and underbrush, locating them can be a challenge.

Related: Want to find a meteorite? Expert Geoff Notkin tells us how!

If you think you may have found one, here’s what to look for:

  • Look for the black exterior, the “fusion crust” that develops due to the heat from its passage through the atmosphere
  • See if it is magnetic. Even an ordinary fridge magnet will tend to stick to a meteorite
  • Beware of ‘meteor-wrongs’ such as industrial slag, which can have some characteristics of meteorites but are definitely from here on Earth.

Did you see either of these bright fireballs? If so, report what you witnessed to either the American Meteor Society or the International Meteor Organization. Every eyewitness report helps refine the path of these meteors, improve the science of meteors and fireballs, and potentially even help locate meteorites for study.

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Why I Hunt for Sidewalk Fossils – The New York Times

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These oft-overlooked records invite us to imagine what has been and what might be.

A paleontologist once told me that city sidewalks hold snapshots. If I trained my gaze toward my feet, he said, I would find evidence of all kinds of commutes: traces of hopping birds, the soles of humans’ shoes, restless leaves that fell and sank into wet concrete at just the right moment. I might see a smattering of little paw prints zigging, zagging, doubling back, evidence of important rodent business that didn’t often overlap with mine.

These marks are too recent to pass muster with scientific sticklers, but in all respects except age, they are fossils. There are many ways to make one. Some form when a creature is entombed in sediment: Water percolates through, flush with minerals, and over time the mixture infiltrates the bones, where it settles and forms stone. Other fossils are casts, made, for instance, when a shell dissolves and leaves behind a mold that eventually fills with sediment, which hardens into rock. But not all fossils involve remains; some catalog movements. These are the kind that stipple our sidewalks — nascent trace fossils, records of fleeting contact.

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Throughout the pandemic, I turned to nature to track time and step outside myself. I photographed the sweetgum tree outside my Brooklyn window, noting when it leafed into a bushy chlorophylled curtain or when it dropped fruit that fell to the ground like unshattered ornaments. Most afternoons of that first lonely spring, I roamed a cemetery. When magnolia blossoms smudged the scene pink, I stood under the canopies until wind splashed the petals against my shoulders.

I was lucky, of course, to be simply scared and lonely — not dead, not intubated, not choosing between peril and paycheck. But time was slippery, and I felt stuck in my own brain, a foggy, trembling ecosystem I had no interest in studying. By early 2022, I was cocooned in my partner’s Morningside Heights apartment. On weekend mornings, we shuffled around the neighborhood, and each volunteered to notice something new: a startling mushroom, the pale bellies of pigeons waterfalling down a facade before flocking skyward. I became fixated on sidewalk fossils. Fossil-finding outings were a relief — an invitation to crouch, touch, lose myself in evidence of skittering and scrabbling, tethering myself to a past and a future.

Once I started noticing these impressions, it was fun to imagine myself as a paleontologist of the urban present.

Because sidewalk fossils are essentially the same color as the surrounding concrete, they’re most visible when light rakes across them; a fossil that’s elusive at noon might announce itself at dawn or dusk. So I timed a second daily walk for the hour when the light fled. Late afternoons introduced me to tiny forked footprints that marked the scene of, perhaps, an avian skirmish. There were others: a dog’s paws, three-quarters of a shoe. Though ichnologists, who study trace fossils, might discount leaves, I marveled at those too: most of a London plane and a ginkgo, with its corrugated fan. Across from a closed-up snack cart, I knelt until the cold concrete prickled my knees. I wriggled out of my mitten and traced a leaf’s sharp, diagonal veins, its saw-toothed sides.

When scientists encounter a fossil, they often try to puzzle out an explanation of how it got there. Maybe an animal was stranded or washed off its feet or chased by predators. Once I started noticing these impressions, it was fun to imagine myself as a paleontologist of the urban present. A bonanza of bird feet made me wonder if someone had sprinkled seeds or dropped a bagel. How long ago? What kind? When a leaf didn’t seem to match any of the nearby trees, I wondered if it was an interloper, blown in from blocks away or if it testified to an ecological eviction — a tree yanked out and replaced with another species or swapped for sidewalk. The fossils fastened my attention to something tangible but also invited it to wander and to think about city streets as collages of past and present, about how our nonhuman neighbors are architects, too. How we all shed traces of ourselves, whether we know it or not.

Of course, there is more significant proof of the past. Mammoths sometimes turn up in farmers’ fields, their tusks curved like scythes abandoned in the dirt. Parades of dinosaur footprints still march along the banks or beds of some prehistoric rivers and seas. Those are awesome, showy and obvious. I line up to see them; I happily gawk. But it was a tiny thrill to encounter evidence of the past that was subtle and recent, proof that others were out there. The sidewalk fossils felt intimate — the paleontological equivalent of a raft of letters secreted away beneath a floorboard.

Only they’re not actually rare. When sidewalks are repaired, birds and other animals ignore attempts to keep them pristine. Leaves do whatever the wind demands. These fossils are easy to find, and we’re lucky to have them. When I was lingering in the worst parts of my brain, sidewalk fossils dislodged me. Unlike the many fossils that represent stillness, the moment when an animal died and the place it remained unless humans carved it free, sidewalk fossils are often peeks into lives that continued. The birds flew somewhere; the dogs, I hope, went on to wag over many sticks and smells. As the sun sank and I trudged home, the fossils — these little flukes, these interesting accidents — were reminders of small, exhilarating life.


Jessica Leigh Hester is a science journalist whose first book is “Sewer” (Bloomsbury Academic, 2022).

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Green comet expected to be visible for first time in 50 millennia – Al Jazeera English

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Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is visible with binoculars, telescopes and in some areas, the naked eye – and it will grow brighter.

A green-hued comet is expected to be the most visible to stargazers on Wednesday as it shoots past Earth and the sun for the first time in about 50,000 years.

Discovered less than a year ago, the dirty snowball last passed near Earth during Neanderthal times, according to NASA.

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The cosmic visitor will swing by our planet within 42 million kilometres (26 million miles) Wednesday before speeding away again, unlikely to return for millions of years.

This harmless comet already is visible in a clear northern night sky with binoculars and small telescopes, and possibly the naked eye in the darkest corners of the Northern Hemisphere.

It’s expected to brighten as it draws closer and rises higher over the horizon through the end of January, and is best seen in the predawn hours. By February 10, it will be near Mars, a good landmark.

Stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere will have to wait until next month for a glimpse.

Finding a remote location to avoid light pollution in populated areas is key to catching a nice view of the comet as it journeys past our planet heading away from the sun and back toward the solar system’s outer reaches.

While plenty of comets have graced the sky over the past year, “this one seems probably a little bit bigger and therefore a little bit brighter and it’s coming a little bit closer to the Earth’s orbit,” said NASA’s comet-and asteroid-tracking expert, Paul Chodas.

Nicknamed “dirty snowballs” by astronomers, comets are balls of ice, dust and rocks and wander towards the inner solar system when they’re dislodged from various gravitational forces, becoming more visible as they venture closer to the heat given off by the sun.

Fewer than a dozen comets are discovered each year by observatories around the world.

The green comet was discovered on March 2, 2022 by astronomers using the Zwicky Transient Facility, a wide-field camera at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in Palomar Mountain, California, the United States. That explains its official, cumbersome name: comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

Its greenish, emerald hue reflects the comet’s chemical composition – it is the result of a clash between sunlight and carbon-based molecules in the comet’s coma, the cloud around the nucleus that makes the comet appear fuzzy in the sky.

This comet last passed Earth at a time when Neanderthals still inhabited Eurasia, the human species was expanding its reach beyond Africa, big Ice Age mammals including mammoths and saber-toothed cats roamed the landscape, and northern Africa was a wet, fertile and rainy place.

The comet can provide clues about the primordial solar system because it formed during the solar system’s early stages, according to California Institute of Technology physics professor Thomas Prince.

NASA plans to observe the comet with its James Webb Space Telescope, which could provide clues about the solar system’s formation.

The Virtual Telescope Project at the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Ceccano, Italy will have a live feed accessible here.

The comet — a time capsule from the emerging solar system 4.5 billion years ago — came from what’s known as the Oort cloud well beyond Pluto. This deep-freeze haven for comets is believed to stretch more than one-quarter of the way to the next star.

While comet ZTF originated in our solar system, we can’t be sure it will stay there, NASA’s Chodas said. If it gets booted out of the solar system, it will never return, he added.

But don’t fret if you miss it.

“In the comet business, you just wait for the next one because there are dozens of these,” Chodas said. “And the next one might be bigger, might be brighter, might be closer.”

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USask researcher and Nobel laureate Herzberg predicted source of comet's green hue in 1939 – USask News

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Comet C 2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by astronomers using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility this year in early March. (Photo: Dan Bartlett/NASA)

“It’s important to pay attention to celestial events like this because they are often how we learn about our world,” said Dr. Daryl Janzen (PhD), an astronomy expert and instructor in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics at USask’s College of Arts and Science. “Science itself was essentially invented because people noticed that the planets follow wandering paths through the stars and wanted to explain that.”

Janzen also co-ordinates public outreach activities for the USask Observatory, which is open for public viewing of celestial objects on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Like many other comets, Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) gives off a distinct green colour from its bright head as it arcs across the sky. The puzzle of the exact cause of this green coloration has been solved in recent years, thanks in part to Herzberg.

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Herzberg, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1971 and a groundbreaking researcher who conducted much of his foundational work at USask from 1935-1945, spent his career studying the structure and geometry of molecules using spectroscopy, the study of the absorption and emission of light and radiation by matter. His studies led to innovative understandings of how molecules and atoms function and interact, and formed the basis of many advancements in astronomy, health, chemistry, and physics.

Herzberg began studying the diatomic molecule, C2, as early as 1937 while he was at USask. C2 is formed because carbon (C) is a relatively unstable element and attempts to stabilize itself by bonding itself with a second carbon molecule. His work eventually evolved into an analysis of how C2 may be of interstellar importance. A prediction Herzberg made in analyzing the spectroscopy of C2 laid the foundations for our current understanding of why colours appear in comet comas—the cloud of dust and gas that surrounds a comet’s head.

According to work published in 1939 in The Astrophysical Journal, Herzberg speculated that the cause of a comet’s green hue could  be due to sunlight causing C2 to reach a high level of vibration, which causes the two molecules to break their bond and disassociate. It was thought the ripping apart of these molecules released energy emitted as a green colour.

This prediction remained unconfirmed for almost a century due to the difficulty of testing such a scenario. In December 2021, a University of New South Wales team published a research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that tested Herzberg’s theory for the first time. Through a lab experiment, the research team showed that C2 molecules disassociate at high vibrational levels and cause a green light to emit from a comet’s coma. This discovery provided scientific proof of what Herzberg suspected back in 1939.

“Comet comas are typically green, and as Herzberg predicted, the colour comes from photo-dissociation of diatomic carbon, which is an abundant molecule in comets,” said Janzen. “This recent study confirmed that C2 has a lifetime of roughly two days until sunlight breaks the molecule apart and emits a green photon. It’s not just the colour, but this short timeframe that explains why the green light comes only from the coma and not the comet’s tail.”

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