'A ball with a big, long streak'
By LAURA CLYMER
Arizona Daily Sun
City Editor Tuesday, April 28, 2009
As he was driving north on Interstate 17 just beyond the Stoneman Lake exit around midnight Saturday, Richard Garcia saw a blazing fireball seemingly pass overhead in the same direction."She came right over the top of the truck," Garcia said Monday. "The colors were unbelievable. It was unbelievably beautiful. It was ball with a big long streak on it and then it had all these gorgeous colors just radiating out of it."
Not much more than an hour earlier, sometime after 10:30 p.m., Gloria Mireles was standing in the parking lot of the Western Hills motel on east Route 66 when she saw a fiery red fireball light up the eastern sky."It was giving out sparks from the tail," Mireles said Monday. She said she closed her eyes because she thought it was going to hit, but felt no impact. Turns out both Garcia and Mireles and countless others witnessed an unusual event to be sure -- two distinct objects blazed over Flagstaff late Saturday night.
Verifying the event in The Sun Blog, Jeff Hall of Lowell Observatory wrote, "I saw a bright fireball from Mars Hill at about 10:45 p.m. April 25 MST. It was heading NE over Mount Elden in the direction of Sunset Crater, had an extended brilliant glow, and was relatively slow moving."That, however, appears to have been only one of at least two fireballs, since my neighbor, who is doing search and rescue training, was out NE of Flagstaff sometime after midnight when what seems to be the main event cruised by."Saturday's fireballs have intrigued meteorite hunters and night sky watchers across the country.Now the question is whether any of the fragments survived impact.
Garcia is skeptical the fireball he saw made it to Earth."It was right over the top of road and I thought it was going to impact the road, so me and this other car that was next to me, we both slowed down because I think he was thinking that same thing I was, that it would probably hit the road," Garcia said. "But I didn't see anything disintegrate. It just appeared that it ran out of energy."Garcia estimated the fireball to be between 3 and 4 feet in diameter.
But Hall notes in his blog entry, "There's no way to know how big the thing is as it zooms by you ... So at this point, any descriptions of the object's size are speculative."Whether fragments survive depend on how the object enters the atmosphere, according to Hall, but he gives meteorite hunters hope, writing, "It is quite likely, at least, that many small pieces did end up reaching the ground ..."But where to look? It is difficult to pinpoint the actual trajectory of fireballs.
Brian Rackham was visiting a friend in Prescott Valley, and they both saw the fireball and were convinced it hit nearby."It was an amazing thing. Bright white and red fireball with greenish tail," Rackham wrote in an email to the Daily Sun. "We were watching TV, and it was so bright we couldn't help but look to the side out the window as it came down. The whole thing took about two seconds at the most."Rackham thought initially it was a plane or helicopter crash near the Prescott Airport.
Hall cautions in his blog, "Finally, remember that when you see one of these things, it's extremely difficult to gauge altitude or distance by eye. ... Claims of where (or if) an impact might have occurred should be viewed skeptically until fragments turn up.
"Saturday night's experience was a close encounter Garcia is unlikely to forget anytime soon."My parents just passed away in '05 and '06 and being a Catholic I decided to cross myself and thank my parents for sending a good sign," Garcia said.
ON THE WEB Read Jeff Hall's blog entry: www.lowell.edu/users/jch/sss/blog/See an image of the fireball: www.heliotown.com/Fireball_April_26_2009_Ash.html