SPRINGFIELD, Mo. According to NASA, it turns out that fireball blazing across the sky seen by eyewitnesses in eight states on Monday night was a meteor.
Here's the official rundown from the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page:
"At 8:51 Monday night hundreds of eyewitnesses located in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Minnesota reported seeing a very bright fireball. An analysis of their accounts, along with data from an EarthCam camera in St. Louis and from a camera located at Missouri Skies (near Albany, Missouri), has established that this fireball first became visible at an altitude of 59 miles above the town of Cedar Hill, just to the southwest of St. Louis.
The meteor moved to the northwest at 33,500 miles per hour, traveling some 70 miles through Earth’s atmosphere before ablating 12 miles above the town of Bridgeport, northeast of Hermann.
The orbit and brightness of this fireball indicate that it was caused by a fragment of an asteroid about 16 inches in diameter (basketball size), weighing over 200 pounds.
Based on the information currently available, it is possible that this event produced meteorites north of McKittrick.
The fireball was also detected by the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) onboard the GOES 16 weather satellite, which supports the eyewitnesses reports of the fireball being brighter than the Full Moon.
It was not a member of the Taurid meteor shower, as some have reported."
That last sentence is a point of debate because this time of year the Taurus constellation produces meteor showers known as the North Taurids and South Taurids and Monday night was the peak time for the Northern Taurid showers, which produce fewer meteors but are more likely to be brighter fireballs.
NASA, though, says the meteor was too slow to be a Taurid meteor.
Regardless, this is still the time of year you're more likely to view the fireballs as they streak across the night sky.
It was last year in November that a brilliant fireball was seen all across the Ozarks and we visited with Steve Arnold, a meteorite hunter, who came to the Chadwick, Mo. school grounds to search for clues about where fragments might have fallen.
Arnold, whose spent 27 years hunting meteorites, hosted a TV series on the Science and Discovery Channels and once found a 1,400-pound meteorite in Kansas, came up empty in his search around the Chadwick area.
But he is heading to an area between Warrenton and Hermann in east-central Missouri to see if he can find any remains from Monday night's meteor.
"It's promising," he said. "We're going over some Doppler radar in the area and there's always a chance a local citizen will stumble on one. It' will be a black rock that's rounded and it would be exceedingly extra- exciting for science if a piece can be found."
Many observers are already excited.
Missouri State planetary system specialist Dr. Sarah Morrison pointed out that the comet Encke, which orbits the sun every three-and-a-half years and is named for Johann Franz Encke (who calculated its orbit), is currently intersecting with the earth's orbit.
"So the earth is actually passing through material from the tail of the comet Encke right now," Morrison pointed out. "Earth interacts with space a lot more than we often think about. Sometimes you have events like this where it's a little bit more shocking."
When asked if we should be worried about all this interaction with space debris?
"There are groups conducting surveys that are trying to identify objects that could be potentially hazardous to earth," Morrison said. "But generally the chances of a very large impact happening are extremely unlikely."
Instead Morrison and Arnold say we should appreciate that these meteor events give us a sense of our place in the celestial heavens.
Arnold put it best when he was speaking to a science class at Chadwick about the possibility of meteorites landing in that area.
"How often does an alien from outer space fly for millions of miles over billions of years to bring us a message and it lands in your backyard?"