A 'fireball' from space lit up the northern valley night sky with a bright white flash
A rare cosmic wonder lit up the night sky throughout our region and in Manitoba on Wednesday, March 23. WDAY News asked the experts what it is, and why the sight is more common than some might think.
INKSTER, N.D. — As "Stairway to Heaven" blares through the car speakers in a dashcam recording north of Winnipeg, a bright ball of light is seen falling from the night sky. The bold object left a trail of light and the driver in awe as he shouted a few expletives.
A UND camera near Inkster, North Dakota, got a clear shot of it letting out an explosive bright white flash on impact. Physics student Vincent Ledvina and his classmates monitor these cameras for Aurora borealis. Ledvina was stunned when he saw the flash.
"Rewound the livestream and I saw it and I was like, 'Holy crap, that was bright,'" he recalled. "Cause at some point, almost the entire frame was just white."
The science world calls this a fireball. It happens when a meteor enters our atmosphere, burning up on the way to Earth's surface.
As MSUM Astronomy and Physics professor Juan Cabanela told WDAY News, of the thousands upon thousands of meteors visible to the human eye each year, fireballs are rare — but they are not unheard-of.
This fireball, which hit at around 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, is among the nearly 2,000 fireballs reported to the American Meteor Society this year.
"This is still a pretty nice shot," Cabanela said, regarding the UND video from Inkster. "My first reaction was, it's coming right at us. And I had to look at the video again and analyze it a bit. It wasn't quite coming directly at the camera."
"It's fairly easy to just pull up a star map program and confirm that it was looking north," Cabanela explained. "If these are two different observers and they say it was this direction, then you can triangulate and say it was up here. But if you just have a whole bunch of people who say, it was that a way, you can't tell."
It fortunately happened at a time when a lot of people could see it. Dozens of people reported the fireball to AMS, and several caught it on camera. The combined reports put the landing spot somewhere north of Winnipeg.
Cabanela says the fireball likely left behind a rock -- but the chances of anyone finding this present from space? That might be a reach for the stars.
"Northern Manitoba is a big area," Cabanela said. "It would be pretty hard to be lucky enough to find this one particular rock."
Ledvina and his friends can still lay claim to bragging rights -- for capturing clear video of this cosmic event.
"It was on Facebook, it was on Twitter," Ledvina said. "One of my professors actually sent out an email to all of the physics faculty and students."
A matter of five seconds he will remember for the rest of his life.
Cabanela recalled a fireball he once saw with his own eyes while walking home from MSUM in South Moorhead.
"I was walking down my street, and literally the whole street lit up, and I look up, and there's this glowing band," he said.
Cabanela said the fireball from Wednesday night was likely too small to make a crater.