Update: ‘Green fireball in the western sky’ during meteor shower

12:33 AM: Have just received two reports of this, one a text, and then this e-mail from Chas in Gatewood:

no images – but sitting upstairs looking west (past my computer screen) just saw a giant green fireball enter over what looked like Kitsap peninsula – green streak coming from high in sky (limit of window) turning yellow and ending in large (5 times apparent diameter of moon) green fireball just above what looked like the mountains – couldn’t really tell how far it was except for the brightness and detail suggested it was relatively close (within hundred/or so miles)
about 3 minutes ago for timing (like 12;20 or thereabouts)

We had heard of a possible meteor shower tonight. Looking it up now.

12:48 AM UPDATE: Thanks to “Meteorologist Patrick” (as we know him) Kelly – who mentioned via Twitter that it’s the Quadrantid meteor shower, which Space.com is covering here. This WashingtonPost.com story has details too – apparently the shower is peaking right now (convert the WP times to three hours earlier, of course).

12:55 AM: Someone at the National Weather Service saw it too:

1:39 AM: West Seattle’s own NASA Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen has shared some info in comments, starting here. She suggests that anyone with a west-facing surveillance camera should check to see if it caught anything around 12:20 am (and if you have any kind of image, still or video, please let us know, would love to add it to the story – thanks!).

36 Replies to "Update: 'Green fireball in the western sky' during meteor shower"

  • Dan January 3, 2013 (12:46 am)

    I work in an office on Lake Washington facing North and saw this fire ball falling off to the Northwest at roughly 1230 am. It did not appear very far away. There was a smoke trail that was lit up, very bright.

  • brin January 3, 2013 (12:49 am)

    Spectacular, green, much larger and brighter than the moon. Mayan apocalypse maybe?

  • Theresa Beaulieu January 3, 2013 (12:52 am)

    The text was from me, I was calling my dogs back in from letting them out to go potty and could not believe what I saw. A huge green ball followed by a long orange/yellow streak heading west of where I am ( Highland Park) I have never seen anything like this before! I have grown up in WS and my mom would have us all lay out during meteor showers to watch but this was like no other. Amazing.

  • SW BC January 3, 2013 (12:54 am)

    I Saw the whole sky light up green coming from the west at about 12:30am. I am in British Columbia, just North of Sumas

  • Alice January 3, 2013 (1:31 am)

    Hmm. I wanted to call this a bolide meteor, because that’s my understanding of the word bolide, but it seems the geologists have co-opted that term since I was last in school. Now (and probably always, since I’ll bet my memory is faulty) “bolide” refers to meteors that are big enough to make it all the way through the atmosphere, crash into the Earth making a crater and becoming a meteorite.

    What you saw (you lucky ducks!) was “just” a meteor… though a very, very awesome one. It looks like even “fireball” implies a larger object. Most meteors are the size of a grain of sand, but “fireball-like” exploding meteors could be more like grapefruit-sized. We can’t predict them–just times when they’re more likely, as during certain meteor showers. These bright meteors can also happen randomly, just like any other kind of meteor.

    If anyone asks, it probably never hit the ground, though sometimes these bright meteors look like they did! Firstly, it mostly disintegrates in the upper atmosphere, and secondly, west of us is the Pacific Ocean. Since meteors generally are seen VERY high up, it wouldn’t have the right angle to come down on the peninsula somewhere.

    Here’s an article I wrote about what you’re seeing when you see a meteor or shooting star. It’s pressure that causes most of the visible glow.

    In the case of a bolide/fireball/exploding meteor, some of that light is the actual meteor exploding.

    The quadrantids aren’t usually the most active shower, and we miss them anyway because we’re often socked in with clouds this time of year.

    If you know someone with a west-facing security camera, call them up and ask them to review the tapes! I’m sure WSB and local news are hoping, hoping, hoping someone caught it.

    • WSB January 3, 2013 (1:35 am)

      Alice! I was hoping you would show up. Didn’t get around to messaging you sooner.

  • James January 3, 2013 (1:42 am)

    If it was coming in from the northwest or west, I’m afraid it probably wasn’t a Quadrantid meteor. Sounds like a random bolide to me.

  • Abby January 3, 2013 (1:45 am)

    Suddenly woke up at around 12:30 am and looked outside just in time to see a huge white ball changing color a little bit descending straight down. Not like high up in the sky but literally like right past Lincoln Park! Totally freaked me out as I thought it was possibly a leftover big firework from New Year’s Eve that someone had shot off. As I woke up more I realized it was a one time event with no sound so i quickly started searching the web. Found this NASA site which helped and happy to know other people saw it too. How cool! http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/watchtheskies/quadrantids_2013.html. So happy for clear skies in Seattle tonight!

  • Alice January 3, 2013 (1:47 am)

    Yeah, lucky for me I’m still online trying to order warm pajamas that aren’t bright pink for my daughter. Jason noticed the article pop up in his feeds. Thought I’d weigh in with interesting bits that I know about meteors.

    Keep the word out looking for video footage, it’ll be in high demand by morning.

  • Alice January 3, 2013 (1:57 am)

    If you want to see more meteors tonight (or tomorrow or Friday) watch in the NorthEAST in the early morning hours. Like now.

    I know this is the opposite of where this fireball was seen (NW), but it is still your best bet. Note that the fireball was streaking towards the West from the East. Lie back and look at as much of the sky as you possibly can, that’s how to catch a shooting star. :)

    Meteor showers always peak just after midnight local time because that’s when our part of the Earth is turned into the stream of debris. This is also why you generally watch towards the East.

  • Alice January 3, 2013 (2:11 am)


    It sounds to me like it was falling towards the West, which make it consistent with a Quadrantid radiating from the East. The brightest of an shower often make it quite far across the sky, even to the opposite side.

    But it is hard to know for sure for any exact meteor.

  • terry January 3, 2013 (2:13 am)

    I witnessed the meteor mentioned as well. I am located in Nanaimo, BC. On Vancouver Island. My view was pretty much due west from up to downwards. Was one of the brightest displays I have ever seen. Occurred at 1220 am.

  • Alice January 3, 2013 (2:14 am)

    Still researching that term “bolide” — the astronomers and geologists disagree. I’m sticking with the astronomers: this was a bolide, even though it didn’t impact.

  • jennifer January 3, 2013 (4:02 am)

    I also saw this…on my pourch in shoreline…like a shooting star then it changed color to a green ish yellow..looked like it was falling strait down…after it dissapered from my sight due to a tree line but there was an after glow the tree line light up in that greenish color..i’m not the only one who saw this..cool…

  • Greenpeace January 3, 2013 (4:30 am)

    Wow…sounds amazing. Sorry to have missed that rare phenomenon.

  • Velo_nut January 3, 2013 (5:08 am)

    It was the Green Goblin!!!

  • CSI January 3, 2013 (7:23 am)

    North Korean satellite.

  • Dale R January 3, 2013 (7:45 am)

    Did anyone else see the object fall slowly in the western sky before sunset last night? Know what it was?

    • WSB January 3, 2013 (8:03 am)

      Far as we know it was just a contrail … saw it from SODO … one person reported it to us a short time afterward, but we had seen the clouds from the contrail as they broke up.

  • E January 3, 2013 (9:55 am)

    I think I saw a meteor small green fireball land and extinguish up close last night after midnight. My window faces west over the 5 freeway, at the Olive street exit in lower Capitol Hill. I saw the fireball extinguish just before it appeared to hit the ground. It appeared to hit the ground just on the opposite side of the 5 freeway next to the Springhill Suites Marriott building. I thought it was a hoax or fireworks because I have never witnessed a meteor land so close.

  • the dancing kat January 3, 2013 (12:26 pm)

    I was not fortunate to see this event…,but did anyone else see the glowing lights on New Years Eve at midnight? We live on the top of Genesee hill and these light were glowing and moving in the west. They kind of looked like the prayer lanterns they send up in Thailand, but I couldn’t see the lantern itself, only the glow. Was anyone sending up wishes, prayers, resolutions from Alki Point that night? Just curious.

  • JayDee January 3, 2013 (12:55 pm)

    Dancing Kat:

    I am a little lower on Genn Hill above Alki and saw three red lanterns float up away from south of me on 55th or 56th and Charlestown or so. Two lasted longer and appeared to reach the stratus deck.

    I wish I’d seen the bolide–same luck I have had with Orcas…

    • WSB January 3, 2013 (1:30 pm)

      JayDee, same problem I have with both … I was sitting here last night right in front of a big west-facing window (the fireball might have been behind the houses and trees that block most of the view, but still!), unaware of anything till the text and then the e-mail … went out afterward to see if at least the garden-variety meteors would show themselves, but no luck.

  • evergreen January 3, 2013 (2:55 pm)

    I love that Canadians read this blog. Hi, neighbors!

    • WSB January 3, 2013 (3:08 pm)

      I’m waving too, although I suspect more that they found us via:
      -Google News (WSB is indexed within seconds of every new story. Truly.)
      -Twitter (a BC person found my tweet within minutes, probably running a search for meteor after observing it himself)
      than reading regularly. Though we DO have *many* more regular readers than all of West Seattle’s population put together. (More than 125,000 “unique users” each month.)
      Still trying to find an image from last night. Hope somebody got it somewhere! – TR

  • Alice January 3, 2013 (3:23 pm)

    If you saw the fireball, go report it to the American Meteor Society. They have a very easy-to-use form, you only need to know your observations, what you saw not a bunch of astronomical details. They help you figure out those parts!

    It’s a really cool form. And you’ll be helping do SCIENCE!

  • Rick Rask January 3, 2013 (3:33 pm)

    Saw same from Portland Or at 12:20 AM from down town pdx fireball was NNW and going straight down from my vantage point. Glad others saw too.


  • Steven January 3, 2013 (3:54 pm)

    Is the general consensus that the meteor did NOT in fact impact? I am an eye witness and I have not ruled out the possibility of impact. It appeared to impact to the naked eye and, so far, I haven’t seen any information that would convince me otherwise.

    If you have concrete facts refuting the possibility of impact 100%, not 75% or even 99.999%, then I would encourage you to post these facts.

    If not I’m going to be searching for a space rock for a long ass time.

  • Alice January 3, 2013 (5:06 pm)

    @Steven and @E

    The meteor did not impact, as much as it may have looked like it did. It was too high up (given that it was seen from BC through Oregon, but not farther East than Washington’s border) to have come down even on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula. If it did impact, it would have impacted in the Pacific Ocean.

    Also, given the size for a meteor that “burns” for this long it would have completely burned up and disintegrated.

    There was a fireball recently that did drop some material on California, but that meteorite was quite a lot larger, lower, and started farther inland than this one.

    I’d also wait for the American Meteor Society to give a report on their suspected size and altitude of this, based on the multiple reports. Then you can get your 100% chance of it not impacting.

  • Alice January 3, 2013 (5:15 pm)


    Look through these reports. If everyone seemed to think it impacted, and some people saw it from the other side (i.e. in the northEast) and they also think it impacted, then it might maybe sorta could’ve. Otherwise it’s vanishingly unlikely.

  • Edna Mason January 3, 2013 (8:11 pm)

    My sister and I were driving down SW Roxbury Street at 12:20 on 1/3/2013 we both saw a green yellowish fireball type of display. I said, i just saw some new years fireworks or a meteorite. Seems to me it hit just around Westwood Village area. First ever sighting.

  • Jason Wagoner January 3, 2013 (9:46 pm)

    I was asleep lasnite at 12:30AM, But This Morning waiting for the 28 at Crockett and Dexter, I witnessed a Very Bright, Falling Fast object in the NW Black Sky, It was 6:31 AM.

  • Steven January 5, 2013 (3:54 pm)

    It has been 2 days and my brain hurts from all the research I have done… Has nobody stated as a fact what this phenomena was? I have discounted the possibility of the meteor impacting, although I do believe that we may have seen a meteor burning up as it entered the atmosphere. I am 18 and have NO previous astronomy experience. Can somebody who has more experience with astronomy tell me if this theory is plausible?

  • Susan Allen January 5, 2013 (7:04 pm)

    I am so glad we finally found this website. My friend and I also saw the fireball when we were holidaying in Tofino, BC. We were on the beach just after midnight on Jan. 3, 2013. It was a dark, clear night with a gibbous moon and millions of stars. We had already seen several shooting stars. Suddenly the whole sky lit up as if someone had turned on a fluorescent light. We looked up and saw what looked like a giant firework, except that it came out of nowhere and there was no other evidence of fireworks. It appeared low down in the sky. It had a bright white-green ball with an orange tail. It arced up and as it descended towards us, the orange tail wiggled back and forth as it fizzled out. It was absolutely phenomenal. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. After researching the internet, we decided it was a fireball but couldn’t find anyone else who had seen it. I contacted the Centre of the Universe in Victoria, BC (part of the Royal Canadian Astronomy Society) and the person there said based the description, she believed it was indeed a fireball. She also said another person had contacted her with a similar description of a sighting which occurred the same time as ours (at 12:15 a.m.).

  • WSB January 5, 2013 (8:07 pm)

    Theresa, above, got a reply from the American Meteor Society. I thought she might have posted it here as a followup comment but apparently not. So since two more comments have come in, here’s its text:
    Thank you for your fireball report. There are also 8 other witnesses to your fireball spread over Washington and British Columbia. From what I can tell this meteor was a member of the Quadrantid meteor shower, which peaked in activity this morning. Unlike most meteor showers, this particular one is pretty much limited to one morning per year. You just happened to out at the right place at the right time. There were other observers out all over the world viewing this display. Many of them, under favorable conditions, reported seeing up to 40 meteors per hour, though none were as bright as the one you reported.
    Each year in early January, the Earth intersects the orbit of an asteroid known as 2003 EH, which created the debris we see as meteors. As the Earth intersects this debris we see them as meteors in the atmosphere. Most of these are the size of small pebbles, Yours was probably the size of a beach ball. These meteors strike the atmosphere at 26 miles per second, which causes such a small object to become so bright and to be seen over such as large area.
    I hope this helps!
    Robert Lunsford
    American Meteor Society

  • Alice January 5, 2013 (11:52 pm)


    Yes, it was definitely a meteor.

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