AUG 23 (EDT) 1996 FIREBALL OVER EASTERN ONTARIO


At about 8:00 p.m. EDT, Friday, Aug 23, 1996, a bright fireball was seen over eastern Ontario. Reports were received from as far east as Nepean, near Ottawa, as far north as 50 miles south of North Bay, and as far west as Milton, west of Toronto. Almost all observers indicated that this fireball was much brighter than the full moon, though this was sometimes difficult to assess since the fireball was seen in essentially a daylight sky.

Based on preliminary reports of the fireball's brightness and the some reports of sound, it was felt that more data would be worthwhile. Requests for information were therefore published in the Kingston Whig-Standard, the Belleville Intelligencer, the Trenton Trentonian and the Cobourg/Port Hope Daily star advertising Queen's phone numbers as well as the email address fireballs@astro.queensu.ca. Over 3 evenings the following week (Aug 27, 28, 29), telephone reports were received by Jayanne English , Edward Thommes , JJ Kavelaars , and Judith Irwin . At least 50 reports were received, most of which were by phone and about 20% by e-mail. All reports were transcribed to electronic format, latitudes and longitudes were inserted for almost all of them, and they were forwarded via e-mail to MIAC Aug/96 Reports where they can be reviewed by interested readers. As of this writing, several more reports are still trickling in and they will likewise be forwarded. Note that since most observers place the time of the event around 8:00 p.m. or a few minutes after 8:00 p.m. EDT, the fireball is listed as an Aug 24 event (UT).

Several reports of sound have now been submitted. Two of these came from Port Hope. Both of these reports indicated that the sound was simultaneous with the light, one indicated that the sound was like "popping", the other like "whistling". For more information on simultaneous sound, see very low frequency radiation .

Two other reports of delayed sounds were also submitted. One was from Baltimore, Ontario, indicating that a deep rolling thunder-like sound was heard perhaps 2 to 3 minutes after the light. The second report of delayed sound came from a location on the north shore of Rice Lake (at the mouth of the Indian River) where the witness claimed that a popping sound was heard about 2 seconds after the light.

The trajectory was basically east to west with a slight NE - SW angle. Based on what were (subjectively) believed to be more reliable reports from the many received (e.g. observer made a measurement, or was very near the end-point) an attempt was made to determine the location of the end-point of the trajectory by simple graphical methods on a map. The closest town near the resulting intersection "point" is Harwood, Ontario, on the south shore of Rice Lake.

Based on this information, on Friday, Sept. 6 (two weeks after the event), more than 100 letters were delivered to mailboxes in the Harwood area by Jayanne English, Judith Irwin, and Irene Brueckner-Irwin. Here's Jayanne and Irene. (Picture must be stretched horizontally.) As a result of this effort, several more calls were received, one from the witness indicated above (Indian River) who heard the delayed popping sound and one from an eyewitness who was situated in Harwood. Both witnesses had difficulty identifying a start-stop azimuth and altitude, with the north shore observer indicating an E to W trajectory and the south shore observer indicating a S to N trajectory. In both cases, the fireball was observed close to the zenith. Several other members of the RASC, Kingston Centre, later also drove to the area and deposited letters in areas not covered previously. As a result of this the ``Bewdley Bugle" also printed the letter later in September. Several more phone calls were received, at least one of which was useful (compass measurement). Several other reports near the end point could potentially be useful if the witness were interviewed, since they could not describe position during a phone call, but could probably point out the position in person. The more recent reports confirm a visible light end-point within a few km of Harwood.

Several photographs were taken of this event, one of the fireball itself, and several others of the smoke trail. Some detail was lost in the scanning, and the resulting colour is somewhat "off" in each case. Positional information has yet to be fully exploited from these images.

The fireball photograph was taken by Sheila Howarth from Kingston (Pittsburgh Township). This observer had enough time to reach into her bag, take out the (automatic) camera, and snap the photo. The fireball is the bright slightly elongated "speck" just to the right of centre. The image looks west and Arcturus is in the field of view, though it has not been identified with a particular point in the image yet. Other spots in the sky are dust flecks.

Smoke trail 1 from Kingston This is the first in a series of 6 images taken by Frank Cervenko. It was taken 2 - 3 minutes after the fireball. The 6 images were taken about 10 seconds apart, thus the next image shown here, Smoke trail 2 from Kingston, was taken about 50 s after the previous image.

Later smoke trail from Kingston This is the second photograph taken by Sheila Howarth from a different location closer to the Rideau River about 7 minutes after the fireball photo was taken. (The woman in the picture is a relative.) The trail is dark and distorted against the brighter sky with 3 blobs forming a "V" shape.

The bright smoke trail of this image contrasts with the previous one. It was taken by Paul Ricker from a boat on the Moira River just west of Hwy 37 about 10 km north of Belleville, i.e. farther west than the Kingston images, above. The trail is the bright, diagonal broken line at the center of the image.

The scientific results from observations of this fireball have now been published by Sarty, Huziak, and Irwin in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Volume 93, pp 22 - 32 (February, 1999).

Dr. Judith Irwin, Queen's University, Sept. 12, 1996. Last updated Oct. 7, 1999.