Something dramatic happened in our skies on Friday evening.I missed seeing it myself  so I’m quite green with envy of the reports from eye witnesses of  spectacular fireballs racing through the night.

Image of meteor

A bright Aurigid meteor photographed in 2007 (Image credit:NASA/SETI Institute)

 

So what were these bright balls of light?From collated reports this sight is thought to have been a meteor (or even a bit of man-made space junk) breaking up.A meteor, sometimes more commonly known as a shooting star or more rarely as a fireball or bolide, is a small particle of metallic or stony matter, usually about the size of a grain of rice or smaller, burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.When these particles are travelling through space they are known as meteoroids.When larger pieces of space debris land on Earth these fallen fragments are known as meteorites.

Million of meteors occur in the Earth’s atmosphere everyday.If you watch the sky on a dark, clear night, sooner or later you will see a shooting star whizz across the darkness, in fact if you keep watching the sky you’ll probably see several in an hour.They are visible when they are between 65 and 120 km (30-60 miles) above the Earth’s surface.As these bits of space debris reach the Earth they are travelling at high speeds, usually between 12-70 km/s (7-43 miles per second).As meteoroids travel through the atmosphere, air resistance creates friction causing the material to become heated until it is white hot and therefore giving out light.Most often the meteor is vaporised in the process.

Shooting stars are rare and wonderful sights and now you know just how spectacular an event you have just witnessed (or missed)!Please share your experience of this spectacle in the comments section, we’d love to hear what you saw, if you have any pictures of the fireball to share please let us know.

We receive so many enquiries about meteorites that we have a special webpage of common questions. You may also find this video of the last meteorite found locally of interest.

Fireballs can be reported to Armagh  Observatory.

UPDATE:Colin Campbell’s spectacular photo of this event is our Image of the Month.

UPDATE (26 September 2012):Based on analysis of the fireball’s speed it seems to have not been man-made spacejunk (satellites are slower than meteors, see our show Beyond the Blue for more on this). The fireball amost certainly was a meteor, possibly even a very small member of the Aten asteroid family. Atens are Near Earth Objects which have orbits mostly or entirely inside that of Earth.


47 Comments

kiel wright · October 30, 2014 at 04:01

when i seen it i was sitting watching film in my bedroom in corner my eye seen bright light a got up look oot ma window the sky light up like firework went off it look pretty low and slow lots of bits breaking off it so ran doon the stair tae tell my drunken idoit of dad oh not a tall interested so i went to run back door and lock nae key in the door raged LOL would say (direction north angle 350 seen over saltcoats north ayrshire slow moving lot different colours yellow orange blue) 21/09/12 about 10.25

bridget · April 4, 2014 at 04:12

i just saw a huge cubed meteorite that was extreme red

Kate · November 7, 2012 at 03:29

My friend and I saw two apparently burning balls of orange/yellow falling from the east and thought we were about to witness meteors crashing at around 10 pm. They appeared faster than a normal airplane but too slow to be meteorites and then they flew directly overhead and one headed west while the other disappeared. Sorry I’m late with this but I don’t watch tv and it was such a strange and beautiful sight that I started looking around for a possible explanation and ended up here. We live in north London.
When they flew overhead they were travelling no faster than a commercial airline and I noticed they were completely spherical and low enough to vanish for a second behind the tree line.
Just minutes before we had this sighting my friend’s 3 year old grandson was excitedly babbling about a ” Christmas tree star” and pointing to the sky. We thought he’d seen an airplane! Can’t believe no one else we know saw it and I’m relieved to have found this blog.

Linda · September 29, 2012 at 19:31

I witnessed this over Morpeth in Northumberland. The blinds were open and I asked my son if he saw it. As it glided over the sky I knew it wasn’t a fire work. Amazing.

Daniel chantry · September 27, 2012 at 22:16

I saw this when i was carp fishing in the east devon area, Garry and i could not believe our eyes when we saw a fireball the size of a house (which ofc was larger) but as an eye scale thats about the size falling threw the sky. A memory i will never forget. Fishing can be amazing for the true wonders on this world.

Liz Smith · September 27, 2012 at 21:55

My son and I were walking the dogs and observed it from the bottom of a small hill in north Glasgow about 11pm.It was travelling east to west,the thing I couldn’t understand was it seemed to be ground-level from our viewpoint, there was one large light at the front and the rest got gradually smaller as it passed,approx 20 lights didn’t notice any colours though. Looked like a high speed train to me.
.

David Wilson · September 24, 2012 at 05:51

My wife and I saw a part of the fireball moving east to west over North Leeds.

fred · September 23, 2012 at 20:15

I was in blackrock co. louth when i watched every second of this event,WOW . I was looking north, and to me unless there is some sort of optical illusion attached to objects high in the atmosphere, it came in over the cooley, dundalk bay area travelling east to west and slightly north to south, ive got photos which have a street lamp in for point of ref. on entry and i had to stand on patio table to see it disappear over my neighbours extension roof. the next day i had a look and the point on the horizon where it was no longer visible and to me it passed right over dundalk. but as i said something 50-80 miles high what do i know. I would be interested to know if the lady from co. down was looking south when she saw it.

Peter · September 22, 2012 at 21:55

I am happy to provide my Email address (removed- ADMIN) as an ‘anchor’ if anyone is interested in pursuing this after this thread is closed by the BBC.
I am not even particularly interested in matters interplanetary, but this was such an amazing sight that it would be wonderful if somehow one could establish beyond doubt what it actually was! The description and timing seem to match in all the above posts! Better than watching the East Enders …!

    admin · September 22, 2012 at 22:57

    Thank you for the offer Peter, but that’s not necessary, we’ll keep accepting comments as long as people want to send them in!

Colin Campbell · September 22, 2012 at 21:09

I reported this via the obvservatory’s fireball reports site last night. I was out in my garden experimenting with taking a few shots of the stars when what I initially thought to be a fireball came into view, breaking up into many bright pieces and moving quite slowly across the sky. It really was quite stunning, like a slow moving firework. I quickly swung my camera up and got this shot, a 5 second exposure taken at 22:55:52 BST / 21:55:52 GMT/UTC. The fireball was travelling directly east to west and overhead. The image shows it grazing Alpheratz, the top left star in The Great Square of Pegasus. I’d describe it as ‘fire’ coloured – orange/yellow; no sound that I noticed. See the link for photo – happy to provide a higher resolution image to the observatory if it would be of help.

Patrick J, Ryan · September 22, 2012 at 21:00

I witnessed this from Newport, Co. Tipperary at approx. 11.00 last night. There appeared to be around eight pieces in formation with meteor-like trails travelling across the north-western sky in a southerly direction, passing beneath the Plough (Ursa Major) at 25 to 30 degrees above the horizon. The motion was much slower than any normal meteor, and the pieces burned out after approx 1 minute to 90 seconds after first sighting.

Alan Berger · September 22, 2012 at 20:40

I was on the bottom of North street in swords, Dublin.. At Almost 11 o’clock I saw the fireball streak across the sky in an east to west direction! Looked like whatever it was was breaking up too.. Very weird as there was no sound!! Initially thought it was a plane or something but then maybe some space junk!

Ronan · September 22, 2012 at 17:50

Hi, I went to southport beach today and found a strange rock on the beach I thought it might be a piece of volcanic rock but after hearing about the meteor showers and thought this might be a piece of the meteor.
I know there is thought of it being space junk but I thought I would post this comment to find out exactly what it is.
Please contact back to me via Email and I will send you a picture of the rock
Thanks
~Ronan Edwards

Peter · September 22, 2012 at 17:31

Alexandra – It was almost exactly 11pm. I do someone from the Planetarium would give us some sort of clue what it was ! 🙂

    admin · September 22, 2012 at 22:47

    Unfortunately nobody seems to know yet. Soon as we’re sure we’ll let you know!

      chris · March 1, 2013 at 17:23

      The exact time and place which I saw the large red glowing object was at between 11.49pm and 11.50pm, whilst walking from Garstang, Lancashire towards Cabus. This is the second sighting that I have seen in this area, of an unknown flying object in the sky. This definately was not a flying object.

Norma · September 22, 2012 at 17:13

I saw the shooting star effect as I was driving up an incline in West Lothian, Scotland at about 10.50. Immediately after, 7 or 8 balls of orange light seemed to travel Westwards in a kind of formation. They looked like they were travelling about the speed of a plane and at the height of a plane preparing to land. Because trees began to obscure my line of sight I don’t know how far they would have been visible. The shooting star was different from one I have seen before as it did not seem to hit the ground but seemed to break up at about the height a plane flies. The ” fragments” or whatever they were, were travelling parallel to the ground.

Alexandra Thrift · September 22, 2012 at 16:01

This is Alexandra from Bournemouth

I have just noticed “Peter’s” comment above mine ….I wonder what time Peter had his sighting on the Isle of Wight ?( Yes we did see something in the South ! )….I’m not sure what time it was as I was tired and went to bed earlier than usual….I said the “early hours” but it could have been a little earlier.

I should have checked my watch:(

It flashed fast and it was VERY bright.

Maybe 15 minutes after a large jet passed overhead quite low and noisily ( from the sound).

Alexandra Thrift · September 22, 2012 at 15:51

All the news reports talk about the meteors being seen in the North and only as far south as Norfolk…..however, I live in Bournemouth and went to bed without closing my blinds ( I was so tired). I was awakened in the early hours of the morning by a very bright light flashing across the sky. My first thought was that it was a shooting star and I leapt out of bed to see more but by the time I looked out onto the beautiful, starry, utterly clear sky , the flashes had gone.

This has never happened to me before so when I heard the BBC News in the morning I thought that it was what I had seen….did anybody else see anything on the South Coast…could it have been a fragment that had broken away ? Incredibly bright.

This was not my imagination….any explanation ?

    admin · September 22, 2012 at 22:54

    My best guess is you may have been mistaken about the time and were lucky enough to witness the main event!

Conall · September 22, 2012 at 15:39

I was comiing out of the house and seen a large red glowing ball in the sky which became fairly bright and lasted several seconds. I have seen a few “normal” shooting stars and last night was alot bigger and brighter plus it was red

    Conall · September 22, 2012 at 15:42

    I was in Derry NI when I seen it

Ffion Davies · September 22, 2012 at 15:25

saw identical but 8.30pm Monday 17 Sept in SW Leicestershire in southern sky. Decided I was just going senile until seeing all these reports last night!

Peter · September 22, 2012 at 14:41

This is the same as I saw (see above) here in Cowes. It really would be interesting to get to the bottom of what it was. I have never seen anything like it and judging from the size of it (not only from what we saw, but from others writing here) it was something quite out of the ordinary.

Mark C. · September 22, 2012 at 14:40

When I first saw it I thought it was one of the navy rescue helicopters from HMS Gannet that had been in that area earlier on in the night, that was the scale of it. It was very low with an intense white light with a hint of green. It was only after a few seconds that I saw the burning debris coming off of the back of it and I realised that there was more to it than that. It came from the east, slowly flying over Loch Doon heading west, with larger chunks breaking off behind it and burning up.

I don’t know if it is likely that you will find out a bit more about what it was or not but I’d love to hear about it if you do.

Horatio · September 22, 2012 at 13:04

This object was seen the entire length of the country, thanks to clear skies and such a long duration where it was highly visible. But just because it appeared to track slowly across the sky doesn’t mean it was travelling slowly! Remember that distant objects appear to move more slowly than near ones due to parallax. Taking into account that this object was between 50-60 miles high, and probably not even over the mainland, most of us would have been seeing it from hundreds of miles away. So, for it to have covered 180 degrees of sky in under 2 minutes means it must have been travelling at speeds 7-8 miles per second – that’s 27,000mph – 28,000mph or 35-40 times the speed of sound. I’m hoping that with all the footage available from lots of different locations, the experts will be able to work out accurately where the object ‘flew’ over. Most people saw it looking North, travelling from east to west (from as far south as Cornwall). If anyone saw it whilst looking south, it would be nice to know from what location. One other thing – the title of this page needs correcting – it’s the fireball of the 21st September!! 😉

    admin · September 22, 2012 at 16:38

    Doh! Thanks for pointing out my date confusion, that’s what happens when I post after midnight!

    Peter · September 22, 2012 at 23:45

    Nice scientific explanation …very interesting. It must have been huge! Anyone reported a satellite gone missing?

      admin · September 26, 2012 at 14:48

      It seems to have indeed been a meteor, I’ve updated the post accordingly.

        chris · March 1, 2013 at 17:07

        Your definately right there! I saw that meteor moving from east to west right above my head, with large boulder looking flaming items being dragged behind. I first thought it was coming down, but realised it was within the atmostphere when I heard a boom sound as if breaking the sound barrier, it was awesome.

    Ellen from Belgium · September 24, 2012 at 12:21

    I have seen it in Belgium! I even had the time to take out my cell phone to take a picture. Unfortunately the picture only shows a bright white spot a bit above the horizon. It’s the third time I see such a thing but this was by far the most beautiful one! It was moving way too fast to be an airplane but imo too slow for a meteroid. Anyways it was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time 🙂 happy happy happy

    Boo Long · February 10, 2016 at 17:41

    I saw it from East Lancashire in England and it was heading right to left in the northern sky, a friend in Scotland saw it heading left to right in the southern sky. so the east-west path would have been somewhere roughly halfway between….

Horatio · September 22, 2012 at 12:22

I saw this in Pembroke Dock, by the Cleddau Bridge at Hobbs Point, just before 11pm. A group of night fisherman also saw it and actually stopped fishing to observe it! I was looking north across the river, the toll bridge on my right, and had a totally clear view of it. I spotted it from the moment it came in (on my right side, from the east over the bridge!) as a bright green light, tracking slowly from right to left. After about 15 seconds or so, it began to get very bright but started to break up into multiple, orange, fiery trails. This is the stage where the vast majority of the videos start filming from. As the trails dimmed, they appeared as orange balls of light, about 8 in all, heading west – having tracked 180 degrees – horizon to horizon, until it was beyond visual range – there was no indication that it had stopped burning or hit the ground – in all, I say it was visible for 60-90 seconds ish. That’s one of the amazing things – it’s entry appeared very shallow from my perspective, near to flat and level – it was parallel to the horizon, thus it was visible for so long. This was a large object, possibly an asteroid, comet head or satellite and nothing to do with a ‘meteor showers’ as the media keep harping on about in the headlines. It was one object that broke up into many!

Colin McGookin · September 22, 2012 at 11:50

It appeared over Slieve Croob bright white and seperating into several pieces as it came right at me in my house in Finnis near Dromara. As they went overhead I ran to get my son and we both ran outside to see them head west as orange balls getting smaller into the distance. Very beautiful and bright and very steady flight path. Left me very shaky because I thought it was coming right into our house!

Peter · September 22, 2012 at 11:19

We were on a ferry-boat near Cowes on the Isle of Wight when we saw a large and quite long object in the sky. We were convinced we were watching an aircraft crashing but just before it disappeared below the horizon it seemed to disappear from view. It was quite frightening and almost certainly the most extraordinary thing I have seen in the night sky in 58 years. And yes, we were both stone cold sober!

Elaine · September 22, 2012 at 10:17

We saw the meteor ( Nottinghamshire). It looked huge to us like a tailed fireball. My husband saw it first through the window. He said that it was bright green in colour. I caught it on the other side of the house, as we dashed outside. I didn’t see the green, but it did look spectacularly big and fiery with a huge tail. Magic!

Catherine Shannon · September 22, 2012 at 09:20

At around 11pm we saw what appeared to be a bright orange light, the only way i can describe it is that it was like a slow moving firework which then started to break up into smaller balls of fire and then seemed to fizzle out over Drumlough, Hillsborough, Co.Down.

Nigel Sampson · September 22, 2012 at 09:13

I saw the fireball whilst out walking near Boroughbridge in Yorkshire. I first noticed in the very clear sky about 10.45pm, and it looked like a bright Venus, that just grew and grew over a period of 2 – 5 mins. By the time it came over me it was a real fireball, didn’t look that high, milaitary plane height, and appeared quite close, a village or two away. It started to break up over Ouseburn, just south of Boroughbridge, and the fragments continued until I lost sight of the them inn the distance.
Meterorites in films like Star Wars was the closest I could go to descibing it
I would expect to hear stories like the three arrows in boroughbridge which decended moons ago and still are an interesting phonomenen ?

john card · September 22, 2012 at 09:05

I saw this pass over Cannock Staffordshire at 10:55pm, it was very large, bright and seemed to be moving too slow to be a meteorite. I actually thought it was an Aeroplane on fire as it seemed to be moving parallel to the ground. Quite disconcerting to see.

Phil · September 22, 2012 at 08:18

Looks more like a ‘man-made’ object, breaking up, from the videos (?)

e.g. Columbia….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNfEUkxmliQ&feature=related

    jo · September 24, 2012 at 00:50

    I actually could not believe what I witnessed on friday night – I saw it in armagh about 10,45 the only way that I could describe instead of a firework going up into the sky and exploding it came down from the sky I actually thought it was someone letting off fire works but it lingered around too long for it to be a firework and amongst all of this I seen several shooting stars a great clear night!

    bill · September 29, 2012 at 03:50

    the stranger part is we have also seen this strange fire ball friday evening at 8 26 edt it seemed to have perhaps crashed here not sure but most of us here observed it falling from the sky they say it was over 155 minutes from inital sightings very strange indeed ,,,billy albany ny

    David Khan · September 1, 2015 at 07:16

    I spotted this on same night – Glasgow – and it was not following a straight trajectory or speed. It seemed to be experiencing turbulence. Well the next day I was watching RT news and they told of a returning space hub from the iss. The thing was heading East, and seemed to be engulfed in flame rather than a fireball.

      admin · September 1, 2015 at 09:40

      Dear David, thanks for your interesting report, but I think you may have witnessed something else. I’m not sure what the RT news report was discussing as ISS supply craft do not usually re-enter over the UK.

Was the 21 September Fireball a Second Moon? | Astronotes · October 15, 2013 at 03:14

[…] perhaps, briefly the Earth had a second natural satellite seen by thousands of people.Remember the spectacular fireball witnessed over the UK and Ireland on 21 September 2012? It was not alone; later the same evening, in what seemed to be an unrelated coincidence, a […]

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