Monday 22 August 2011

fire in the sky

hale bopp, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

I was up on the roof at twenty to ten last night, ready to watch the International Space Station go by. It was a clear, still evening; a polar satellite quietly passed northward, far overhead, skimming the handle of the Plough as it went.

Two minutes short of the appointed time for the ISS to appear, a great fireball streaked across the sky above me, leaving a long trail and flickering and sparking as it went. I thought momentarily that it was a firework; but it was too white, and too silent. Utterly silent.

Then the ISS appeared, and ascended to a zenith right overhead, and so declined to the eastern horizon, dimming as it dived into the earth's shadow. Ordinarily, it would have been pretty impressive; tonight, though, it had been seriously outstaged. As I watched, my mobile rang. It was Brendagh, over in Long Ashton; "Did you see that?"

Later, I looked on Twitter. Other people around Bristol had also seen it; and someone in Reading, for whom it had been in the West.

Here's a picture of Hale-Bopp, which was really quite unlike a fireball in some ways, but was also a silent presence in the sky.


  1. Wow :-)

    I recall the magnificent, silent presence of Hale Bopp a few years ago...

    It's about time we had another decent comet to look at isn't it?

    (With some decent high powered bins I gather you can make our some features on the ISS, if you can track it fast enough?)

  2. That reminds me of a day at the end of the nineties with two magical flying episodes.

    The first was lying back floating on a warm blue mediterranean the surface a smooth as mercury when a tern swooped down and plucked a fish out hardly two feet from my nose and hardly made a ripple.

    Later that evening sitting out watching the sky turn to night a slow lazy fireball sailed across the sky at a fraction of the speed of any meteor I have ever seen. Nobody else reported seeing it. Space junk from an earlier space station was suggested at the time.

  3. We went our for our evening stroll but it was cloudy. I wonder if we'd have seen it from here. There was a beautiful moon last week.

  4. It was quite something, wasn't it, Jo? -and no mistaking it, as opposed to other comets I've searched the sky for and failed to spot. Yes, you reminded me of the photo taken of the ISS during an eclipse; had you seen this?

    Quite a day, Caroline! Things look even more dramatic from sea level, don't they? At least with this fireball, I was able to find other reports of it instantly, otherwise I might have doubted my senses.

    It may have been way in the northern sky for you, Anji; but it was overhead here and westerly for Reading, so you can console yourself with the thought that you wouldn't have seen it even if the clouds weren't there.... quite a moon, wasn't it? Was that the harvest moon?

    Pretty certainly meteor, Ann; I looked up 'shooting stars' in Wikipedia and read about both fireballs and bolides, which are simply extra large meteors.