March 28, 2023
Celestial Object Captured by Sudre's Trucker Camera Likely Space Rock from Taurid Meteor Shower

Celestial Object Captured by Sudre’s Trucker Camera Likely Space Rock from Taurid Meteor Shower

Colin McNutt was driving through Innisfail on October 29 when a bright green fireball streaked across the night sky turned white before disappearing

COMY MOUNTAIN VIEW – A Sundre tanker driver’s dashboard camera recently captured some out-of-this-world footage.

Colin McNutt, who on the night of October 29 was traveling north through Innisfail on Highway 2 shortly after 7 p.m., described what he saw as a sort of emerald green neon mix that faded to white before disappearing.

“I just noticed this streak of light going down,” McNutt said Albertan on Nov. 4 during a phone interview shortly after returning home for a few days from another transfer.

“Initially at the top, it was completely green when I first saw it,” he said. “From green to white. it was pure white at the end when it disappeared – that was the last color I saw.’

Although his dash cam has had issues in the past and malfunctioned, McNutt said he only recently got the device back up and running.

Curiosity quickly got the better of him. Wondering if his postman’s camera captured footage of the meteor, he drove a little further down the road before finding a safe place to pull over for a rest stop and check the footage.

To his pleasant surprise, the video – which he also posted on local social media – clearly showed the fireball streaking across the night sky over the course of several seconds. Once he had the chance, McNutt said he went online to report the sighting to the American Meteor Society.

However, the dash cam doesn’t accurately capture color, so the fireball as seen in the video appears white, he said.

Legally allowed to drive no more than 13 hours a day, or about 273 hours a month, McNutt said he tries to maximize his time on the road, which includes more than 100 hours a month he spends driving at night.

“I’m pretty much on the road,” he said, adding that more of that time will be spent in the dark with the changing times.

While McNutt aside from seeing the odd shooting star camp had rarely seen anything like this fireball before, the experience wasn’t entirely new to him.

About five or six years ago, he remembered witnessing another celestial incident with a bright light that stayed in the sky even longer.

“For something to burn for that long, it needed some significant size,” McNutt said, adding that he was among several others who reported that observation.

“It was a re-entry of parts of an Indian missile,” he said, adding that finally discovering what he had seen was a thrill.

But at that moment, he felt like the sky was almost falling and debris would start raining down nearby at any moment.

“It looked like it was so close, and it literally turned into flashes and broke into hundreds of pieces that all burned up right on top of the ball diamonds here,” he said. “Now, it was actually about 1,200 kilometers (away).”

McNutt added that while shooting stars aren’t that rare, seeing a fireball last for several seconds before disappearing is much less common.

“I consider myself lucky enough to see a section of the rocket re-enter the atmosphere and then see this cool fireball,” he said.

The most likely source of the Taurida meteor shower

So what did McNutt see that night?

“Any time something like this is seen in the sky, it’s what’s known as a meteor or a fireball,” said Chris Hurd, a professor in the University of Alberta’s department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

“A fireball is just a bright version of a meteorite,” Heard said, adding that meteorites are rocks of different kinds that are launched into space and enter the atmosphere at speeds exceeding 60,000 kilometers per hour.

“And then because of that speed, there’s a lot of friction and the outside heats up and glows and you get the streak of light in the sky,” he explained, adding, “The bigger the object, the brighter the fireball.”

A large enough space rock that survives the turbulent journey to the planet’s surface is known as a meteorite, but they usually tend to burn up along the way, he said.

“There is so much friction between the object and the atmosphere that it completely burns up and evaporates,” he said. “You have to get to an object more like the size of a basketball or larger to be able to hope that something will survive that rough ride through the atmosphere and reach the ground as a meteorite.”

Asked if his department had received any reported sightings since the night of October 29, he said, “We have cameras that we have set up across the province through the U of A in collaboration with colleagues in Australia at Curtin University. these observatories where we look for fireballs.’

As fate would have it, the network of cameras did record similar sightings on the same night, but at different times, he said, adding that someone else had also reported another sighting another time.

“I thought, ‘No, we didn’t get it, but we got something else,'” he said. “Well, this is like the third event in the same night. Then I realized that what is probably happening is what is called the Taurid meteor shower.”

Every year around this time, Earth’s orbit takes the planet through a cloud of celestial debris left by the passage of a comet, he said.

Natural meteors can occur at any time of the year, when any random space rock falls into the atmosphere without warning, he said.

“However, during certain times of the year, the Earth passes through a part of space where there is more of this debris. In the case of the Taurida meteor shower, Earth is passing through a debris stream left by Comet Enke,” he said.

“It always happens from a specific location in the sky, near the constellation Taurus—that’s why they’re called the Taurides—and you get multiple meteors on a given night.”

In addition, he said the Taurida meteor shower, which returns annually from September to November, may depending on the year be more active than other years.

“Obviously this year, there are some brilliant ones,” he said. “I guess that’s what we were seeing.”

Asked if any fragments of space rock or meteorites had been recovered in the aftermath of the many sightings on October 29, he said no.

“In this case, these are at most pebble-sized fragments coming from a comet,” he said.

“And the comet debris is very weak and the material itself is very small. both the size of a pebble at most and most of the time it is less than that, like a grain of sand. And that will burn up completely in the atmosphere, given the speed at which it enters and the amount of energy involved.”

Residents and motorists may expect further similar sightings over the next week or so, as the Taurida meteor shower will be most active this year on November 5-12.

“It’s kind of unbelievable how things are going,” McNutt said. “Space is so interesting to me.”

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