FREWSBURG — Humanity received three hours’ notice before a space rock would enter Earth’s atmosphere early Saturday morning.
The asteroid was just over 2 feet wide, according to SpaceWeather.com – not exactly an extinction level event. It was originally spotted by astronomer David Rankin in Arizona, who was doing a routine survey.
According to SpaceWeather, most of the meteorites – pieces of the asteroid that didn’t burn up completely – likely landed in Lake Ontario. SpaceWeather described the event as a “deep blow”. Pieces weighing up to 20 pounds are expected to have risen to the surface.
Seven observatories, including the Martz-Kohl Observatory in Frewsburg, were able to capture images of the event as the asteroid disintegrated in the atmosphere.
“I have submitted an image and a report to the American Meteor Society on behalf of the Observatory”, said Board Vice Chairman Tom Traub. “It adds another organization to which we provide relevant data that enhances astronomical research.”
“The fact that we were able to capture this rare event is even better,” said Traub. “I have been working for several years to get NASA to place one of their meteor observing network systems at the observatory. I hope that in the future we can submit more images.
The asteroid’s flash 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 clear skies around 3:25 a.m. on recording from the night of November 18. Thin clouds cover the sky above the observatory just an hour after the event.
“We at the observatory are excited,” said Traub. “We want to use events like this to inspire students and members to use the equipment and knowledge to do astronomy projects or, in some cases, research projects.”
“It just opens up other avenues for future opportunities for our local and regional youth,” he said. “We are in the process of having a STEM space camp this summer at the observatory.”
The observatory has a long history of working with local students. “We asked a high school student to do a three-week internship at the observatory with observations and the use of equipment and software to produce astronomical images”, said Traub. “We have a student member who was at Jamestown Community College and now back in St. Petersburg, Russia who does remote imaging and works using the robotic capabilities of telescopes. We have another junior high student whose brother was a member and active in astronomical research and he is also interested in getting into the field of astronomy.
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 sightings were reported in the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada area, they covered an area from Oswego, NY, to Allentown and northern Maryland, eastern Indiana and south- east of Lake Huron in Canada.