Messier 82

Messier 82
Beautiful Hubble shot of a starburst galaxy, M82

Friday, November 28, 2008

Meteors over Canada!

Canada is under attack - from space! In the last week, two meteors have landed in Western Canada. The first was in Alberta on November 20th; the second was in British Columbia yesterday, November 27th. I actually think I may have seen that second one myself, though I was not aware of its nature at the time (I'm a good few hundred miles south of the landing point).

One of the really cool things about being alive in the age of the Internet and ubiquitous video recording devices is that whenever something interesting happens, you can almost always count on there being video of it - and that video will end up on Youtube within the day.

So for anyone who haven't yet seen it, here's the video of the Alberta meteor, caught from a police vehicle camera:

Meteors are really cool. They're chunks of space rock that fall to Earth at tremendous speeds, burning up (partially or wholly, depending on size) in the process. It appears we're in the tail end of meteor season in the the Northern hemisphere right now, according to this lovely explanation from NASA:

To understand why sporadic activity is greatest near the beginning of Fall, simply recall the last time you drove through a swarm of insects. (Splat! There goes another bug on the windshield...) Bugs rarely "splat" on the rear window because it's hard for insects to overtake a fast-moving car from behind. They accumulate instead on the front glass, in the direction that the car is moving.

The same holds true for sporadic meteoroids. They usually meet the Earth in a head-on collision from the direction of our planet's orbital motion around the Sun, a direction that astronomers call "the Earth's apex." The region of sky around the apex is our planet's "front windshield." In late September the apex, as seen from northern latitudes, lies 70 degrees above the horizon at dawn -- that's its highest altitude of the year. With the Earth's "front windshield" so favorably placed, sporadic meteors are easy to see. Northern observers usually count twice as many sporadics in September as they do in March, when the apex has a lower declination.

These big meteors are still very rare though. Two big ones, within a week, right near each other...I'll leave it to the American televangelism industry to figure out whether western Canada's being rewarded or punished. Or maybe it's the start of the Apocalypse. Who knows. Me, I just think sky-rocks are pretty.

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