Texas “Fireball” Spotted at McDonald Observatory

Last Saturday, people across Texas reported seeing a massive ball of light streak across the night sky just before 9 pm.

Reports of a massive, greenish-yellow streak of light poured in from San Antonio to Houston, from Terlingua to Midland-Odessa.

NASA later confirmed the object was what’s called a “fireball” – the (very technical) name given to extremely bright meteors that appear brighter than the planet Venus in the night sky.

The meteor was even spotted in New Mexico, and a few lucky West Texans got to see it under pitch black skies at a McDonald Observatory star party.

One of them was Kelly Gibson, the observatory’s public affairs specialist. He hosts star parties and other viewing events at the McDonald, and Saturday night saw what he describes as a “yellow-orange streak” falling across the sky.

“It was dropping almost perpendicular to the ground,” Gibson says. “As it lost altitude it sort of deepened in color from yellow-orange to a red-orange, and as it approached the mountaintops the bulk of the meteor flashed bright green.

This video from a McDonald Observatory camera shows the flash from the meteor reflecting off the Hobby-Eberly Telescope dome.

“At this point it had a glowing tail, and the green flash was about the size of my thumb held up at arm’s length,” he says.

Gibson says that glowing tail stayed in the sky for a long time – a few seconds – and he says this meteor was much brighter than your average shooting star.

“A colleague who was facing towards me witnessed my shadow being cast by the light of the meteor,” he says. “It was at least as bright as the full moon.”

Gibson’s pretty used to seeing meteors, but this time was different.

“I went nuts when I saw that one,” he says. “I was…exclaiming very loudly. It was really exciting and beautiful.”

Video of the fireball was captured at a Modest Mouse concert in Austin

Gibson’s seen these “fireballs” before, but never one this big, and he says this one was rare mostly because of how bright it was, and of course, it was bright because it was big.

Estimates from astronomers at the McDonald put the meteor at size of about 4′ in diameter, and it was likely traveling at speeds anywhere from 30,000 – 50,000 mph.

Another dashcam video captured in San Antonio shows the giant shooting star

About Travis Bubenik

All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter
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