Fireball lights up the sky above western Canada

Late last week, a big space rock smashed into Earth's atmosphere, where it burst into incandescence and created a visual display few will ever forget.
By | Published: November 24, 2008 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Canada meteor
This video frame shows the November 21, 2008, fireball near its beginning. Richard Huziak and Gordon Sarty captured this image using the all-sky camera located on the roof of the physics building at the University of Saskatchewan.
Gordon Sarty
At about 5:30 P.M. local time November 20, hundreds of people across Alberta and Saskatchewan witnessed a brilliant fireball that lit up the darkening sky. Amateurs with digital devices as well as professionals using all-sky video cameras captured the spectacular sight. Such fireballs happen infrequently and only rarely over populated areas, making this a once- or twice-in-a-lifetime event for those under the incandescent debris.

Check out this CTV news story about the event, “Fire in the sky.”

The brief flashes of light typically seen during a meteor shower arise from pieces of interplanetary debris no bigger than a grain of sand. Bright meteors and fireballs — meteors that reach or exceed the approximate brightness of Venus — may be as big as a garden-variety pea. In contrast, the brilliant fireball over western Canada may have been a foot or two in diameter when it entered Earth’s atmosphere.

No one yet knows whether any pieces of this meteor survived the fiery passage through Earth’s protective blanket of air. Researchers suspect if any fragments reached the ground (where they officially would become meteorites), they likely would be found near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Once scientists examine the videos and determine the debris’ precise path, they can narrow the search zone to a reasonable size.

Richard Huziak and Gordon Sarty are two amateur astronomers that help maintain the all-sky meteor camera on the roof of the University of Saskatchewan physics building. See their video of the event below.