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Fireball Over Southern England, 2006 November 1–2

An SPA Meteor Section Special Report

A brilliant fireball of magnitude at least –8 to –10 was reported to us from five locations in England south of Derbyshire on 2006 November 1. Timing estimates suggested it probably occurred between 17:30–17:45 UT that evening, while the sky was still twilit after sunset. The lucky viewers included: Garry Harwood (London), Bill Jolly (Suffolk), Dave Lewis (Bristol), David Sumner (West Sussex) and Matthew White (Derbyshire).

Most of these sightings suggested the meteor was following a track between roughly NE–SW to E–W, and may have passed high above the Berkshire region or nearby. David Sumner and Garry Harwood reported hearing a sonic boom some minutes later, apparently from the general end direction, while Garry mentioned hearing a distinct buzzing sound simultaneously with the meteor's flight too, a very rare, but not unexpected, phenomenon with such a brilliant event (for more information on these sounds, see the Global Electronic Fireball Survey.

Although the available information could not be fitted comfortably to a single solution, it seems possible the fireball extinguished at about 30 km altitude above the Fleet-Camberley area, near the Hants-Surrey-Berks border, as a best-estimate.

Ordinarily, such an uncertain possible flight path would not warrant a special report of this kind, but for one fortunate thing: Garry Harwood is an artist. He prepared a series of annotated sketches immediately after the event, and was later able to construct the painting shown here. The original was done in oils on canvas, and is 16 x 12 inches (about 40 x 30 cm) in size.

Garry Harwood - November 1-2 Fireball
Garry Harwood - November 1-2 Fireball
© Garry Harwood, 2006

Garry also kindly provided the following comments about his painting:

"I have attempted to convey an impression of the 1st November 2006 fireball as observed at dusk from Hyde Park in central London. While I have seen many fireballs in four decades of observing, this event was unique in my experience as it represents the first time I have heard any kind of sonic effects associated with a fireball's flight. Perhaps most unusual were the quite distinct humming or buzzing sounds heard simultaneously with the passage of the fireball. These sounds appeared to emanate from all directions at once and only stopped when the fireball extinguished. They were followed some minutes later by a muted sonic boom. These simultaneous, so-called electrophonic, sounds, were analogous to what I imagine a recording of the 'clean' hum generated by high tension power lines or a transformer might sound like, if fed through a distorting amplifier and played back at medium volume via a loudspeaker!"

More about Garry, with some examples of his work (including other astronomical paintings), can be found at Available Light Studios.

Anyone lucky enough to witness a fireball (defined as any meteor which reaches at least magnitude -3 or brighter) from the British Isles or nearby is invited to submit a full report to the SPA Meteor Section. The most useful information to send, and where to, can be found via the Fireball Observing page of this website.

Alastair McBeath, SPA Meteor Section Director

Email: meteor@popastro.com
Address in Popular Astronomy

Added by:  Robin Scagell