METEOR EXPERTS RULE OUT WELCH 'FIREBALL'
24 september 2003 at 18:13:37 UT
- IC-Wales: METEORIC RISE TO FAME ON WEBSITE
- IC-Wales: Nasa in a spin over meteor shot
- IC-Wales: 'Feathers in the sky' at high altitude
- IC-Wales: Digital snap backs up meteor story
- IC-Wales: Hotshot's meteor in photo is genuine
- BBC News - Schoolboy's photo amazes Nasa
- BBC News - Scientists investigate teen's photo
- NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD): An Unusual Event Over South Wales
- Spaceguard UK: South Wales "Meteor"
- CCNet: DOUBTS ABOUT NASA'S 'FIREBALL' INTERPRETATION
Detective-pilot Biggles already said so, in a short story in "Biggles investigates": never readily dismiss the report of a British schoolboy, as they have very keen eyes, a sharp mind, and know how to use them both.... The message is: do not readily believe what appears to be shown, always question first for alternatives. --Marco Langbroek, CCNet 4 October 2003 (1) THE DAYLIGHT FIREBALL THAT GOT AWAY (2) NASA IN A SPIN OVER METEOR SHOT (3) "DIGITAL SNAP BACKS UP METEOR STORY" - NOT (4) SCHOOLBOY BAFFLES SCIENTISTS WITH FIRE BLAST SNAP (5) WHAT COULD IT BE? (6) AND FINALLY: COMET ENCKE ============= (1) THE DAYLIGHT FIREBALL THAT GOT AWAY - A summary and comment on the controversy around some puzzling pictures taken by a British schoolboy by Marco Langbroek, Dutch Meteor Society Detective-pilot Biggles already said so, in a short story in "Biggles investigates" (W.E. Johns; Brockhampton Press, UK, 1964): never readily dismiss the report of a British schoolboy, as they have very keen eyes, a sharp mind, and know how to use them both. This will be well remembered by meteor and impact experts worldwide for some time I reckon, following the stir and controversy among meteor experts, and then the press and the general public, created by the pictures taken by 15-year old Jonathan Burnett, from Pencoed in Wales, around sunset on September 24th. Being published on October 1st on NASA's website as "NASA Picture of the Day", they were reported by a NASA astronomer as being spectacular images of the entry of a "sofa-sized rock" which "came hurtling into the atmosphere of planet earth and disintegrated", creating a rare and spectacular daylight meteor over Wales. This captured the imagination of both the media and specialists, but soon the latter started to doubt, and for two days there emerged quite some discussion on what exactly these pictures showed. So this schoolboy's report certainly did get the attention it deserved, even though in the end it was not what it initially was thought to be. In this essay, I make a reconstruction of the events surrounding these pictures and the publicity they got, and conclude with what we can learn from this occasion, even though it wasn't a fireball after all. When the images and the image caption made by some NASA astronomer appeared on the internet, they were quickly disseminated and discussed through various internet mailing groups, which included a public of both amateur and professional meteorite and meteor enthousiasts. Initial reactions were varied. They ranged from excitement to caution to downright suspicion. More than one person voiced, in public or not, an opinion that it concerned fakes. Eventually these suspicions were aired in the press as well, upsetting Jon Burnett and his parents as ICWales press reported on their news website (http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk). Rightly upset he was, because the images were NOT fakes. That became clear when ICWales published a picture taken by a second person, Julian Heywood from Porthcawl in Wales, showing the same trail in the sky, in an image that had a much wider field than Jon Burnett's photographs. One consensus already had been reached early on in the debate, and that was that contrary to NASA's text caption with the picture on their website, the first image of Burnett certainly did not show the actual fireball, if indeed this trail was due to a fireball. Both Australian astronomer and meteor expert Robert McNaught (Anglo Australian Observatory) and this author (Dutch Meteor Society), later seconded by NASA/SETI astronomer and meteor expert Peter Jenniskens, pointed out on the NAMN Meteorobs and the meteorite-central mailinglists that while certainly *not* showing a fireball, instead the image *might* show the sun-illuminated dust trail left *after* a fireball had appeared. This would also be more consistent with Jon Burnett's recounted story in the press about how he was taking pictures of his skateboarding friends, when a boy put their attention to a fireball streaking the sky, after which Jonathan took his pictures. Such a dust-trail (which should not be confused with the glowing persistent train often seen with bright meteors) is due to material ablated from a large meteoroid, and has been reported for a number of bolides, especially in the case where the objects were that large that eventually meteorites could be recovered. It consists of a trailing cloud of small particles and is essentially formed of condensed meteoroid vapor. These trails remain visible for many minutes after a fireball apparition. Indeed, for this author this explanation gained credibility after he compared the Wales image to that of such a sunlit dusttrail, video-imaged after the appearance of the brilliant El Paso bolide over the US-Mexico border on October 9th, 1997 (see A.R. Hildebrandt et al., The El Paso superbolide of October 9, 1997, Lun. Plan. Sci. Conf. 30, 1999). The trail in the image of Burnett and the video image of the El Paso bolide's dusttrail looked quite similar. Meanwhile the press had got hold of the story. And to make matters more exciting, there were more fireball events reported around the same date. There was a probable meteorite fall in India the same week which got a lot of attention because of reported fatalities and fire damage to houses. And a bright meteoric fireball appeared over Northern France, near Verdun, two days later and was reported from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. So, was there a fireball stream active? Other fireball apparitions near early October had been reported in previous years too. On the meteorite-central mailing list, the suggestion was put forward, by amongst others Steve Schoner of the American Meteor Society, that it might concern meteorites from Mars - two well-known Martian meteorites, Chassigny (1815) and Zagami (1962) both fell October 3rd. In reality, there is little reason to think that such Martian meteorites could occur in a stream (which would cause this spate of late September-early October fireballs), as this author pointed out in reponse (such a stream would require an origin for these meteoroids and meteorites in an object in Near Earth Orbit - and of course, Mars does not fit at all with this). Considering the Wales event, the next question then raised, by amongst others Nevada meteorite expert Robert Verish was: was this event in Wales, if it was a fireball, a meteoric fireball, or a piece of artificial rocket or satellite debris decaying in the atmosphere? This author checked with the decay information provided by NASA's Orbital Information Group (OIG) on their webserver: there were no decays reported for September 24th, and the only object near decay around this date (a small piece of debris from a 1970 rocket launch reportedly having already decayed a day earlier) would not have passed over the British Isles at the time the pictures were taken, even if it had survived its predicted decay the day before. So: a picture showing a dusttrail due to a meteoric fireball after all, albeit not showing the actual fireball? One early voice on the negative cautious side was British BAA meteor section's director Neil Bone - and in the end he was proven right. Both on CCNet and the NAMN Meteorobs mailing list he opted for a sunlit contrail of an aircraft. He also pointed out the strange fact that there were no other reports at all on a daylight fireball, while certainly an event of this magnitude should be seen and reported by many. The fact that it wasn't suggested that this was not a phenomena in the upper atmosphere, but some very local phenomenon - such as an aircraft contrail. Indeed, this point became a growing worry of many, including this author. As meteoritic dust expert Frans Rietmeijer (Dept. of Earth & Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico) remarked to this author, the absence of confirmation was the more strange since an object creating a dust trail of this magnitude could be expected to cause some major sonic booms as well. Regarding the contrail hypothesis, Neil Bone was later joined by several others, for example by Robin Catchpole, the senior astronomer at the British Royal Observatory, who expressed this opinion in The Times, by the Dutch KNMI senior meteorologist Jacob Kuiper, and by Belgian amateur astronomer Geert Barentsen. Dutch amateur astronomer Klaas Jobse provided an image of an aircraft contrail taken only a few days ago, where the shape of the contrail was quite like the trail in the pictures from Wales, albeit lacking the strange bright 'glowing' end of it. For some, this was reason to bring up the hypothesis of a 'doctored' image. It was the second picture, taken by Julian Heywood from Porthcawl (not too far away from Pencoed) and appearing on the internet on October 3rd, which eventually clearified a lot. First of all, it made clear that Jonathan Burnett's pictures were not faked or doctored. The image, which unlike Jonathan's was a wide field image, also made clear at once what was being shown. This indeed, evidently was an aircraft contrail, no doubt. Neil Bone had been right. The only strange thing was the glowing end of it. But the NASA experts (who by that time had wisely changed the text with the APOD picture on their website to reflect the growing doubt, adding that a 'more likely' explanation perhaps was an aircraft contrail glowing due to some atmopsheric effect) had got it all wrong. To end the discussion: this clearly *is* an aircraft contrail, no meteor flaring up or sunlit dust cloud left by such a meteor. For the 'glowing' end of it, there are two explanations. One is that it is a phenomenon similar to a 'sundog' or 'false sun', a phenomenon from the halo-family: sunlight from the setting sun refracted by the icy particles that make up such an high altitude contrail. Yet another possibility was put forward on the BBC website, following the solicitation of reader comments by the latter news agency. Chris Roussel put forward that it could concern a military aircraft venting fuel, which was then ignited by its afterburner, as he had once witnessed such an event. Carl Brooker seconded this, adding that he had seen something quite similar when an F-111 dumped fuel over Norfolk some years ago. Indeed, very early in the debate Frans Rietmeijer had privately mailed me on October 1st that "the first image shows a rather jagged, irregular billowing cloud that seems to suggest and exploding liquid". The verdict on whether it was a sundog or an aircraft dumping and igniting fuel should now come from Jonathan Burnett: if the story recounted in the press is accurate and the boys indeed saw a fireball streaking the sky after which Jonathan took his pictures, then the fuel dump hypothesis would gain credibility. Jonathan, evidently being a keen observer, could perhaps clearify this point for CCNet readers. So there is yet a small bit of mystery left. A 'sundog', or an aircraft dumping fuel? Anyway, we have come a long way from a 'sofa sized rock hurtling into the atmosphere of planet earth'. But of course, not everybody is satisfied with a more 'down to earth' explanation. Predictably, on the BBC website someone was already suggesting that this is a cover up 'because NASA did not predict this meteorite impact'. And one meteorite-central mailinglist subscriber mailed this author a grudging comment that "some people truly want only to debunk the unusual". These people clearly did not like to loose their "fireball". What can be learned from this occasion? A few things merit comment. One is, that clearly the UFO's of bygone days have given way to meteorite impacts as the popular explanation for strange celestial events with both public and press. This points out the clear impact of the current scientific and media attention to NEA threat, near earth asteroid searches, extinctions through impact, and the impact of movies like 'Armageddon'. The fact that now the aircraft contrail hypothesis has been accepted (on very good grounds) some people nevertheless want to stick to the fireball hypothesis is reveiling in that aspect. Large asteroidal chunks entering the atmosphere are now deemed more probable by some in the public than an aircraft - just as once alien spacecraft were more probable than an aircraft. Asteroidal impact, both small and large, has gained clear recognition in society. That is one interesting conclusion in itself. The second and more prozaic thing again underlined, is that even good quality imaging does not mean that things are unambiguous, and expert can be led astray by it, or in confusion. Jonathan Burnett's pictures are as sharp as can be - but they were nevertheless not conclusive in what they showed. What in science is known as "equifinality" is again stressed with regard to the good comparison of the trail in John Burnett's picture and the El Paso bolide's dusttrail,: equifinility is the occasion of two different processes having an apparent similar result. The message is: do not readily believe what appears to be shown, always question first for alternatives. Always a good initial position to take. The third, and last thing that has become clear, is how sensitive the role of NASA in public awareness is, and that things still can go wrong in that aspect. After all, to the public and press NASA is synonymous with 'experts': indeed, the press reported that NASA 'experts' had deemed this a picture of a space rock burning up in the atmosphere - and therefore it was. As will be clear, a number of knowledgeable people with regard to fireballs were not quite sure whether to dismiss the pictures from Wales as being totally unrelated to a meteoric event, although it was clear that it certainly was not showing a fireball. In that sense, we should not too readily point accusing fingers to NASA for the suggestion. But what all knowledgeable people -amateur and professional- with regard to meteor apparitions did all agree on, is this one point that the first picture did certainly *not* show a fireball at the moment of apparition. This was, however, exactly, and quite confidently, what was initially suggested on the NASA website in both the figure caption and the title of this APOD - clearly an expert was *not* involved in this part of the story. And that is a somewhat surprising observation, and it is not how it should be given NASA's important position in public outreach, being the major representative of the professional community in the eyes of public and press. Here, NASA did not live up to its reputation and this is where it al went wrong to start with. It is a bit worrying that apparently, within the team responsible for the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day, nobody seems to have taken the care to contact an expert meteor astronomer first before declaring this publicly a certified "daylight fireball" on their website. Had this happened, then certainly the same kind of discussions (and initial uncertainty) as to what exactly the picture showed would have occurred - but in would not have played in front of the whole world community: with a daylight fireball that wasn't and the discussions it raised getting some major media attention (as it did in Britain). On the other hand, it appears that Julian Haywood then might not have come up with the second picture which solved the riddle. So there was something good in something bad after all. As for Jonathan Burnett, who took the pictures, he can be congratulated for three things. First, for his accute awareness to take a snapshot of a peculiar event in the sky. And second, for his inquiring mind which led him to actually submit his pictures to NASA in order to learn what this was. Third, Jonathan can be congratulated for having puzzled a whole suite of meteor specialists worldwide with his amazing pictures. So Biggles clearly was right about British schoolboys, and Jonathan appears to have all that might make him a good scientists in the future: a keen eye, active and inquisitive mind, and a willingness to put his observations up for peer review. He would later make a good NASA expert. Marco Langbroek Leiden, the Netherlands 52.15896 N, 4.48884 E (WGS 84) firstname.lastname@example.org http://home.wanadoo.nl/marco.langbroek ---------- EPILOGUE Dear Benny, Below comment by Robert Matson (ROBERT.D.MATSON@saic.com) just appeared on the Meteorite Central list and I think it might be worth adding as a note concerning the identification with an aircraft trail. Indeed, in the second picture it was the long, narrow, only very gently curved aspect of the trail which removed all doubt with me that this was a contrail. It really looks like it by all means. - Marco ---------------------------------- By Robert Matson (ROBERT.D.MATSON@saic.com): Perhaps the best evidence is the nature of the contrail itself. Because a bolide has a downward component, any contrail it produces will also. Differential velocities of upper atmospheric winds versus altitude will cause the contrail to corkscrew and scramble fairly rapidly, much like the contrails we see from Vandenberg rocket launches on the west coast. In contrast, jet contrails are at relatively constant altitude, so while they, too, get blown by the wind, all portions of the contrail are exposed to roughly the same wind direction and velocity. The result is that jet contrails keep their shape longer, merely getting "fuzzier" with time. The minutes-later image of the Wales contrail doesn't show any evidence of kinking/corkscrewing, and that perhaps is the strongest evidence against it being of space origin. Best, Rob =========== (2) NASA IN A SPIN OVER METEOR SHOT icWales, 3 October 2003 http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0200wales/content_objectid=13474 802_method=full_siteid=50082_headline=-Nasa-in-a-spin-over-meteor-shot-n ame_page.html A STUNNING picture of a meteor burning up in the sky snapped by a schoolboy out on his skateboard has divided some of the world's top scientists. Nasa says the image is one of the best the institution has ever seen, but Welsh astronomers claimed last night the photograph could be bogus. Jonathan Burnett's picture has caused a global frenzy among space anoraks who have been tracking him down to quiz him about the meteor. But some have started questioning his amazing snap even claiming that it may have been manufactured using a computer. The remarkable shot has made 15-year-old Jonathan a star at Nasa, which made his photo Astronomy Picture of the Day - beating off pictures from professional competitors from around the world. Jonathan, from Pencoed, near Bridgend, was taking action photographs of his skateboarding friends when they spotted the orange ball of fire tearing across the evening sky. The quick-thinking teenager grabbed his new digital camera to capture the once-in-a-lifetime frame. Then he e-mailed his picture to the Nasa space centre in Houston, Texas - where experts said it was one of the best shots of a meteor they'd ever seen. But Jonathan is upset at accusations that his picture is a fake. His mother said last night, "Jonathan wasn't sure what it was when the picture was taken and he and his friends thought it could have been a number of things. "It was experts such as astronomers who said it was a meteor when he e-mailed the picture to Nasa. "Now people everywhere are saying that it may have been doctored and Jonathan is very upset by this." Shortly after being praised by Nasa, proud shooting star Jonathan said, "I was skateboarding with my mates in the park when a little boy pointed into the sky and said, 'The sun's exploding'. "I looked up and saw a fireball dropping through the sky but I had no idea what it was. I grabbed my camera and fired off a couple of pictures. "My mum and dad suggested I sent it off to Nasa to ask what it was and they ended up using it as their picture of the day. I was stunned. "I had the camera on me because I'm just getting used to using it - I've only had it for a month. I was just trying to get some action shots of my friends. "Everyone in school is amazed by my meteor picture - some people at school can't believe it." On the website, a Nasa expert describes the photo as "one of the more spectacular sky images yet recorded." It says, "A sofa-sized rock came hurtling into the atmosphere of planet earth and disintegrated. By diverting his camera, Jonathan was able to document this rare sky event and capture one of the more spectacular meteor images yet recorded." But the Space Guard Centre, which analyses the threat posed by meteors to Earth, said the schoolboy's amazing picture could be a fake. Centre spokesman Jay Tate, who is based in Knighton, Powys, claimed a photograph of a meteor could be drafted in 10 minutes using a computer. "It's difficult to give an accurate assessment of this without knowing the scale of the meteor in the picture," Mr Tate said. "It's obvious the picture has been magnified, but I'm dubious as Jonathan was using a common digital camera. Bridgend is a populated area so why didn't anyone else see this? "Looking at the smoke trail of the meteor I would expect this to measure a couple of metres across and probably shot tens of miles up in the air. "If something of this size was photographed just five miles up it would have had the potential of flattening a large city. "There is considerable scepticism among experts regarding this photograph. Until we get more information about what camera he was using, the exposure, the lens, and the weather conditions on the evening we will remain dubious. I'm not accusing anyone of doctoring it, but we need to know more about it." Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik, who was influential in persuading the Government to set up a committee looking into the threat posed by Near Earth objects, said, "If the photo is genuine it is of truly astronomical significance. "I am delighted young people are taking an enthusiastic approach to the dangers posed by meteors. However, many experts feel that Jonathan's picture isn't accurate, and to get the picture he may have taken a trip in a spaceship to snap it. I cannot tell. But it was worthy of Nasa's picture of the day. Jonathan has shown great initiative and whatever happens he should get 10 out of 10 for effort." Copyright 2003, icWales =============== (3) "DIGITAL SNAP BACKS UP METEOR STORY" - NOT icWales, 3 October 2003 http://tinyurl.com/pm55 Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a meteor - and although he didn't know it at the time that's exactly what Julian Heywood snapped on his digital phone in Porthcawl. The sight of the blazing meteor was striking enough for the 27-year-old Scotsman to whip out his phone and point. Then, after reading about the 'bogus' meteor shot taken by Pencoed's Jonathan Burnett, Julian knew he had just the thing to back up the schoolboy's story. "I thought nothing of it at the time," said the IT support worker from Aberdeen, "I didn't even know what it was. But when I heard a BBC report and read the story in the Western Mail that they thought the picture was a fake, I thought: 'No way! I have the same picture!'" Like Jonathan, Julian - who works in Bridgend - sent a copy of the picture to NASA. "They were very excited about it," he said. "They'll be keeping me informed." Copyright 2003, icWales ============ (4) SCHOOLBOY BAFFLES SCIENTISTS WITH FIRE BLAST SNAP Press Association, 2 October 2003 http://www.news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=2007774 By Antony Stone, PA News A schoolboy snapper is being celebrated across the globe today after a dramatic aerial image he caught on camera was beamed round the world. South Wales teenager Jonathan Burnett claims he has baffled the boffins with his exceptional photograph of a fire blast ripping through the sky. Now he has sent out a world-wide appeal in the hope someone can solve the mystery of the dramatic image which triggered international interest. The 15-year-old, from Pencoed, Bridgend, was using his new digital camera to snap his friends skateboarding when he spotted the huge blast. After capturing the event on camera he e-mailed the image to experts at Nasa in the hope of discovering exactly what it was. But the schoolboy was stunned when experts from the agency contacted him to say they intended using it as 'picture of the day' on the Nasa website. "Since then the interest from the public and the media around the world has been immense," his father Paul Burnett said today. "We have had calls from Germany, Canada and all over the USA, from journalists to people just wanting to congratulate him. "There has been speculation that it is a meteor but the scientists from Nasa don't seem to know what it is. "It is still a mystery and the way we are looking at it is that a 15-year-old schoolboy has baffled the scientists. "Jonathan has been overwhelmed by the attention, and to be honest it's starting to disrupt his school work. "But he would like to be able to put a photograph on his wall with a title underneath saying where and when it was taken - and what it is." He added: "That is why he is appealing worldwide and would like people to contact him if they know what it is." Copyright 2003, PA ============== (5) WHAT COULD IT BE? BBC News Online, 3 October 2003 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_east/3155928.stm What could it be? Tell us what you think the fireball is? Send in your suggestions using the form below. It's a thing of beauty and mystery, two things there are not enough of in the world today. Anthony Harper, England How come the fire ball is still there 1 or 2 minutes after the first picture. I always thought these events were over in seconds? Dan Curwood, UK I agree with Chris Roussel: I've seen an F1-11 do this when dumping fuel over Norfolk some years ago. Although the USAF denied it! Carl Brooker, UK It could well be a meteor, then again it may not be. The fact is, that the young man has captured an image that has impressed NASA. As a photographer, I know the importance in getting the image, and has done a good job. Simon, Jersey Up until last year I lived in Cardiff, just up the road from Pencoed. I have seen this before on several occasions when Concorde has flown over. Colin, UK It's obviously a meteorite. If NASA is claiming otherwise, it sounds they're trying to cover it up! I can't see why, unless they're worried because it's a meteorite they didn't detect. Or it's a satellite they've crashed deliberately, but didn't tell anyone. Ash, England It can't have been a meteor if he took those pictures two minutes apart as the article says. Hugh, Scotland Right now, I'm getting a strange feeling that I need to build a model of a mountain on my coffee table ... Dougie Lawson, Basingstoke, UK When I was about 9 at home, my friends and I were outside one evening and saw something in the sky, it was smaller but brighter as it was night, I always wondered what it could have been, but thought it too big to be a meteor, now I've read this, I think it probably was. Emily, UK If it was a meteor breaking up, would the orange glow last so long, once it had burnt up wouldn't the glow stop as the smoke trail did? No combustion, no light? Ian, UK It looks very different to the meteor that I saw last December hurtling across the M27 towards Southampton. It had a very bright concentrate sphere of light with a long tail of (less bright) light that changed from yellow through orange to red. It did not look on fire as this picture shows. Melanie Richardson, United Kingdom The NASA website today says that a "better hypothesis is an unusual airplane contrail reflecting the setting sun." They've thought better of their initial meteor hypothesis. Neil, England I saw something similar when I was up on Dartmoor at dusk in April about 4 or 5 years ago. It started as a very bright light hurtling across the sky, then it broke into 3 parts and burned out. About a 30 seconds later there was a loud bang followed by 2 sonic booms. It left a small circular cloud in the sky were it entered. Many people in the south west UK saw it and it was reported as a meteor. At the time I thought it might be the second stage of a rocket re-entering with the remaining fuel exploding. I sent the details to Dr Geoff Perry of the Kettering Group, but he said that no space debris re-entered at the time. A Buchan, England Just a theory, but it does look very similar to what happens when an F1-11 vents fuel which is then ignited by it's afterburner. Just a thought! Chris Roussel, Great Britain I think it's a terrible photo - if only he'd aimed more to the left he'd have gotten a unique picture of the dragon itself! Sophie, UK I believe this to have really been a sofa sized sofa from a large furniture store, you know the prices these days are out of this world! Alex Stephens, UK It's Wales' rugby World Cup chances... Andy Hedger, England Meteor, rubbish; it's a large orange balloon that is deflating. Richard Wright, UK I think it was Dr Who's Tardis breaking up on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere Ken Spearpoint, UK The fireball is Tony Blair's ego after it came hurtling back down to Earth after his massive disaster that was the foundation hospitals vote. Leigh Porter, UK In years gone by, fireballs in the sky were thought to herald forthcoming disaster - indeed, the very word 'disaster' means 'bad star'. One look at the news would seem to confirm this possibility! Jasmine, Wales The contrail is darker on one side (away from the sun) which is against it being a meteor. I see many contrails that begin and end abruptly. They are often in a variety of shapes. Richard Evans, Wales Almost certainly a meteor fragmenting in the upper atmosphere. If it was sunlight off a contrail why does it end so abruptly? I work in Heathrow and see thousands of contrails a day, and never seen one like this before. Dave Barlow, UK Its Geoff Hoon's reputation going down in flames! Paul Attard, UK It's quite obviously a large meteor - but judging by the number that have been hitting us in the past few days, I hope Nasa are looking for next Harry Stamper! (Bruce Willis in Armageddon) Brian P James, UK As a Frenchman, I would say it's an Alien space ship who could not understand the orders - given in Welsh - to slow down as they were approaching Earth! Eric, France ========== (6) AND FINALLY: COMET ENCKE Jonathan Shanklin Dear Benny, You will need to have a very big pair of binoculars to locate comet Encke on October 25. It is unlikely to be brighter than 11th magnitude. Regards, Jonathan Shanklin (Director BAA & SPA Comet Sections) email@example.com British Antarctic Survey, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, England http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/met/jds http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/~jds
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