View Full Version : Meteor fireball sighted while on commercial jet

2010-Jan-21, 11:33 PM
Hi all - new here. Amateur astronomer and general science fan. I have an absolutely amazing story to intro myself with!

I left on a business trip Tuesday evening (Jan 19th) from Ohio to Minneapolis, MN. We were to arrive at Minn. airport at about 9 pm Central and were put into a holding pattern around the airport before landing.
As my flight was in the holding pattern I was looking out the window at the waxing moon, conversing briefly and intermittently with my co-travelers, when I went to look back out at the moon (which was now no longer in view) suddenly from the top of my line of sight came a white streak that evolved very quickly into a fireball - complete with fragmentation and disintegration just above the cloud deck at almost a 90 degree trajectory.

To my left and rear was a line of air traffic that was taking off from the airport. The fireball was so close to us that it fell in-between the line of take-off traffic and my plane! I watched it go below the horizon line and actually had to lean sideways in my seat and press my forehead into the window in order to look down and out and see it burst just above the cloud deck (which was very low that evening due to some weather). 2 fragments came off of it as it came into view and 3 more came off at "eye level" with the plane. It burst just above cloud level and broke into 3 discernable pieces.

While falling, as it was "eye level" it was either close enough or large enough to tell the actual shape of the head of the meteor (I am trying to reproduce in a sketch - it was an irregular shape). I was also able to tell color difference within the ionization trail and on the head of the fireball -blue on the edges and trailing the "head" - bright white at the "head" and along a "centerline" of the tail. Whole sighting was over in about 5 seconds. Estimated distance from my face to the fireball had to have been within 5-10 miles. What are the odds of that? I almost couldn't believe my eyes!

I have witnessed several fireballs over the years as an amateur viewer - but to have a "ring side" seat to an event like this was just incredible!

If someone could let me know who I can let know about this - I think pieces of it might actually be recoverable since it burst so low (the cloud deck was very low that evening due to weather). I sent a quick description to the University of MN Astronomy department but no reply. Also to meteorobs.org and the Twin City Amateur Astronomers - no reply. Probably think I am just some crank...But if there are resources to take me seriously I can give flight information and more details - though I was in the plane and had no reference to the starfield nor the direction I was facing at the moment of the event. But if there are tower records of the flight path and altitude at the time of the sighting...

Also - what are the odds of this? How often have sightings occured from aircraft and close enough to actually be able to see the irregular shape of the meteor itself? I felt like I have seen the most amazing thing but it is lost on anyone I am trying to let know about it! If I wasn't so floored by the experience I would have also been completely frightened by the fact that it seemed close enough to be in danger of impact on the aircraft itself!

Anyway - needed to share with a crowd that could appreciate how unique this was!

2010-Jan-22, 01:00 AM
Hi Castagir, I watched the first episode of the new Meteorite Men series on The Science Channel last night. I'd bet they'd be interested in a description of where you saw it. You had a fantastic experience. Thanks for sharing.


2010-Jan-22, 02:06 AM
Kind of interesting, but on Monday a meteorite apparently hit a doctor's office in Virginia. At first I thought maybe you had seen the same one, but apparently not, unless it kept falling for a day and took a very long detour!

On the other hand, I just wanted to say you're lucky it didn't much closer!

2010-Jan-22, 03:10 AM
...To my left and rear was a line of air traffic that was taking off from the airport. The fireball was so close to us that it fell in-between the line of take-off traffic and my plane!

Dude! :)

With the direction of the "line of air traffic", you ought to be able to locate some nice meteorites, which can be worth a lot of money. :eek:

Jeff Root
2010-Jan-23, 12:45 AM

Write out anything you can that might help identify the direction you were
looking, the direction that things were moving, and so forth. Meanwhile, I'll
see if I can reach some meteorite people here.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

Jeff Root
2010-Jan-23, 01:10 AM
If you can provide the flight number and an exact time of the sighting, it
might be possible to get a record of the plane's location and heading from
the FAA. How closely can you place the time?

It might be possible to ask the airline to forward an e-mail to the flight
crew asking them if they saw it. That might help pin down the time.

The opinion here, though, is that the search area is too large, and any
rocks will either be hidden by snow or indistinguishable from zillions of
other rocks.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

2010-Jan-23, 01:23 AM
This part confuses me:

I watched it go below the horizon line...

Which is then followed by:

...and actually had to lean sideways in my seat and press my forehead into the window in order to look down and out and see it burst just above the cloud deck... 3 more came off at "eye level" with the plane.

So it's a question of how you mean "horizon line" here. From all other descriptions, this baby landed right below you, or thereabouts. Did you say it was coming straight down, or did it have some angle of entry?

2010-Jan-24, 03:39 PM
Here is the flight information:
Flight: Delta Airlines 6427
Date: January 19th
Service: Cincinnati to Minneapolis
Time of sighting: Approx. 8:40-8:45. We had just been told that were in a holding pattern over the airport a few minutes prior to the sighting.

I doubt the air crew on my plane would have seen it, but possible. I was thinking that the other air traffic that was either in holding pattern or especially the ones taking off may have seen it.

I contacted the University of Minnesota astronomy department and also the Twin City Amateur Astronomy club but not sure if they got the messsages or not.

I know it would be a huge help to have some sort of reference on the background star field to have a direction - but like I said the reason why I was looking out the window in the first place was to look at the moon - then I turned for a conversation, then looked back out when it happened (however the moon was no longer in view). Very few stars were visible out the window and I could not place the direction we were going when it happened but I was looking at the moon while seated on the left side of the aircraft.

Sorry! When you are flying - unless you have your GPS going it is hard to say where you are facing when flying at night.

Cougar - Description of "horizon line" simply trying to convey how close it was when following it. I would say it pretty much landed right below us. It was coming down at just about 90 degrees - say 85ish. The wing of the aircraft was above the horizon line of course and it passed both the wing and the horizon (though in reality since it was so dark and there was a low cloud deck I was guessing where the actual horizon line was).

It was close enough to see an irregular shape to the head of it - and it may have been an illusion but it appeared to tumble, however I think that appeared that way because one of the 3 pieces that came off came right off of the "nose" of it was fairly large and "peeled" right off the very front of it. Might have just made it appear to tumble when really it was just large pieces breaking off of it.

It was freakily close for sure - still can't believe it myself.