Even the sky was celebrating

5 years ago

Before the Caribou Viking boys took down Cape Elizabeth for the gold ball, they had to get by Hermon. And in a thrilling contest, they pulled it off. Then, as folks were traveling home, it seemed to Caribou fans that the heavens were celebrating as well, when an astonishing meteor streaked across the sky.

Larry Berz, of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics and the Francis Malcolm Science Center, wrote, “Dear Colleagues, I just witnessed … one of the most remarkable meteor encounters of my time.”

For Larry to say that is a “game-set-match” situation. It means the event was big-time. What’s so great is that so many people who normally would not have been on the road, had an opportunity to see it — a nice bit of serendipity.

Larry continued with his description: “Between — 6:50-6:55 p.m. I gazed out my driver’s window to an uncanny sight: a huge brilliantly lit meteor train extended some 20 degrees in length, passing below the bowl of the little dipper in the northeast, and perhaps 20-30 degrees above the horizon. It resembled old images of Comet Halley in 1910 and had similar very thin cometary phenomena popularly photographed or imaged. Strangely, I seemed to interpret this wonder rather matter of factly, like I needed a few seconds to recognize what had transpired.”

I initially contacted Larry after seeing Facebook light up with reports that night, and we exchanged emails about the incoming angle, relative to the Earth’s atmosphere. Larry wrote, “I tend to agree that the intruder entered the Earth’s atmosphere obliquely and skipped back out to outer space. I saw no signs of the meteor exploding and fragmenting as other fireballs or bolides do. This one stands out among the several peculiar/spectacular sightings of meteor fireballs in my 30 years of astronomical life in the County.”

Thank you, Larry, for permission to use part of your superb account of what so many people happened to witness.

So, again, what everyone saw that night seems to have been a skipping meteor. In a way, I suppose, it’s like skipping a rock on a pond. The rock was the meteor, and the “pond” was the top of Earth’s atmosphere.

Sometimes, though, meteors don’t skip, and you don’t have to go all the way back to the incredible Yucatan meteor strike that likely led to the demise of the dinosaurs to find an excellent example.

In 2013, while the astronomical community was focused on a near-pass of an asteroid, there was an exploding meteor over Chelyabinsk, Russia. An exploding meteor is known as a bolide.

So right now, stop reading this column and google “2013 Russia meteor.”  Watch the video that’s 2:07. Finished? OK. Now check this out. As reported in The Guardian, about the meteor you just watched, “The space rock, about 60 feet across, hurtled across the skies, about 30 miles above the ground. Traveling at a speed of 43,000 miles per hour, the rock exploded with a shockwave strong enough to knock people off their feet.” Again, it knocked people off their feet even though the explosion was 30 miles up. It truly is an astonishing clip, a must-see.

Say, this column is hitting the streets on the same day that spring arrives. The equinox is at 5:58 p.m. EDT today. Then, only 21 minutes later, the full moon will rise.

Two weeks from now, my focus will be on the flood threat in the weeks ahead. I do want to tell you right now though, to watch for updates on the Aroostook County Flood Watch Facebook page again this year. That is the go-to place to get the latest on what is going on, and very importantly, it’s also a place where you can post what you are seeing, so others can know if their property is in danger, or if the road(s) they plan to take are flooded.

This spring, we all need to be citizen observers.

Finally, for those with family or friends on the “other side of the line,” New Brunswick River Watch is now active, and can be found at this address: https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/news/public_alerts/river_watch.html.

Ted Shapiro holds the Broadcast Seal of Approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. An Alexandria, Va. native, he has been chief meteorologist at WAGM-TV since 2006. Email him at tshapiro@wagmtv.com.