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E-mail: jberscheidt@dmns.org

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cameras Record Large Thanksgiving Fireball

Preliminary Investigation Shows Meteor
May Have Broken Up over Western Colorado

DENVER-December 5, 2002-A brilliant fireball lit up the night sky Thanksgiving evening, giving people in Colorado and surrounding states an unexpected holiday light show. Now researchers at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science say the stony and metal meteoroid may have originally weighed up to a ton as it entered Earth's atmosphere based on comparisons with similar events.

The November 28 event was the fifth bright meteor seen in Colorado in the past three months. It was seen by hundreds-if not thousands-of people as well as the Museum's All-Sky camera network and a security camera at XILINX® Corporation in Longmont, Colo. Data from the All-Sky cameras, the security camera, eyewitness reports, sound recordings from acoustic arrays at government facilities in Erie, Colo. and Los Alamos, N.M., and potential data from Department of Defense satellites is helping Dr. Jack Murphy, curator of geology and head of the Museum's meteorite research team, with the investigation.

"The eyewitness reports are especially helpful in determining the track of the fireball," said Dr. Murphy. "Due to all the sightings lately, there's a curiosity factor that has prompted people to watch for meteors, and that will help our research."

Dr. Murphy and Chris Peterson, a physicist and Museum research assistant, believe the fireball possibly deposited meteorites in more than one place along its flight path. Gunnison and Montrose counties are the likely locations where the meteorites fell. Researchers are determining the object's orbit through the solar system. Meteorites recovered after a big fireball such as this are found to originate from a parent body in the asteroid belt, a well-known region between Mars and Jupiter consisting of masses of solid planetary rocks.

The video from XILINX is one of the best ever recorded of a fireball of this magnitude. It shows the rapid, fiery atmospheric entry and a large bright flare as the meteoroid broke apart mid-way through its descent. After the flare, the video shows the meteor continuing toward the southwest horizon.

Mike Nadiak, a science teacher at Montrose High School, and some of his students, analyzed data from the All Sky camera at their school to help with the investigation. The All Sky cameras are mounted on the rooftops of 11 Colorado schools and the Museum. The locations were carefully chosen in order to capture a more complete view of the entire Colorado sky down to the horizon. Other camera networks have been deployed, both in the U.S. and overseas, to study the night sky. But, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science's All Sky program is unique because it emphasizes student participation and education. In addition, the equipment is low-cost, high-performance, low-maintenance and weatherproof.

The security camera video captured at XILINX has been graciously donated to the Museum for educational purposes. It would not have been recovered if it wasn't for a security guard who noticed a bright flash on the monitor. The next day, when she read about the meteor, she reported the image to her supervisor who called the Museum. XILINX, based in San Jose, Calif. with an office Longmont, Colo. is the leading supplier of complete programmable logic solutions, including advanced integrated circuits, software design tools, predefined system functions, and unparalleled field engineering support.

Additional meteor sightings in Colorado should be reported to www.cloudbait.com, a Web site operated by Peterson. Media should direct all fireball inquiries to the Museum's public relations office at (303) 370-6384 or (303) 370-6407. Specimen identification requests should be sent to the Museum's Earth Sciences Department at fireball@dmns.org.