It’s a UFO … it’s a plane … it’s a meteor
If you think you saw something streak across the night sky Tuesday, you’re not alone.
Two individuals contacted the Post Independent Wednesday to report that they had seen something unusual flash across the horizon shortly after 10 p.m., and another reported experiencing a similar sighting shortly after midnight.
“It was like a shooting star at first,” said Dorothy Barnett, of Battlement Mesa, who was visiting a home above Catherine Store outside of Carbondale. “It was silver or gray, then it turned into a fireball. It was bright orange.
“I’ve seen a few falling stars, but nothing like this.”
Gayle Samuelson, of Spring Valley, had a similar experience. From her perspective, the phenomenon was red, white and blue, “then it exploded.”
Kathryn Preston, of Glenwood Springs, said she was outside gazing at the sky and looking straight up shortly after midnight Tuesday (Wednesday morning) when she saw “a three-second tracer of orange light, then it just disappeared.
“If I hadn’t been looking up I wouldn’t have seen it,” she added.
“My guess is that there’s probably a meteor shower and that’s what they saw,” said Chris Lazo, the student services counselor at Colorado Mountain College in Aspen and an amateur astronomer. Lazo is also a member of the newly formed Roaring Fork Sky Watchers astronomy club.
According to the American Meteor Society’s (AMS) website, amsmeteor.org, there are no major meteor showers occurring over the United States at this time, but occasional sightings of meteors anywhere in the country, day or night, aren’t unusual. A meteor is caused when a small particle of dust orbiting the sun collides with earth’s atmosphere.
Sporadic meteors, like those seen Tuesday, which are not related to any particular meteor shower and that end in a flash or explosion, are called “bolides.” They enter the atmosphere at such a high speed that their particles heat up, causing a glow.
People often report hearing these meteors either as a whoosh noise or an explosive sound, or both. That phenomenon is called a “sonic.”
None of Tuesday night’s sightings were heard by their witnesses. Barnett, however, said she logged her sighting with the AMS.
A meteor shower occurs when the earth passes through the tail or debris of a comet or other extraterrestrial object. For those interested in seeing a meteor, the next shower in the United States will be the Perseids meteor shower, which will occur Aug. 11-12. According to the AMS, there will be a “nearly continuous period of heavy meteor activity” from mid-October to mid-December of this year, due to the Orionids (maximum visibility is Oct. 21-22), the Taurids (Nov. 11-12), and the Leonids (Nov. 17-19) meteor showers.
The best show happens in mid-December (Dec. 13-14), with the Geminids meteor shower. The Ursids (Dec. 22-23) shower will complete the year’s activities.
While Lazo was researching meteor shower activity on the Internet, he came across a tidbit on a partial solar eclipse, which will occur in this area at around sunset on Monday, June 10. From here, the eclipse will cover between 40-60 percent of the sun. Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the earth and the sun.
Don’t look directly at the sun under these or any circumstances – not with the naked eye, and definitely not with any type of magnification, such as binoculars or a telescope, Lazo said. Special sun filters are available through astronomy catalogs.
Those wanting to “see” the eclipse can do so with two pieces of white cardboard. Simply punch a small, clean pinhole in one piece of cardboard and let the sunlight fall through that hole onto the second piece of cardboard below, which acts as a screen. An inverted image of the sun is formed.
To make the image larger, move the screen farther from the pinhole. To make the image brighter, move the screen closer to the pinhole. Do not make the pinhole wide or you will have only a shaft of sunlight rather than an image of the crescent sun. Do not look through the pinhole at the sun.
For those wanting to join with other sky gazers and learn more, the Roaring Fork Sky Watchers astronomy club meets weekly, and will gather at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday, June 7, at the CMC Lappala Center parking lot in Carbondale.
The group will travel to the Spring Gulch Nordic Center parking lot, where members will look through telescopes and discuss extraterrestrial objects. Most objects in the sky aren’t fully visible until dark, which is at about 9:30 p.m. this time of year, said Lazo, but there are some good planets to view before then.
For those wanting to join the group at Spring Gulch, the best time to arrive is about 8:30 p.m. For more on the club, call Lazo at 925-3757, ext. 2440.
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