Sunday Science: Meteor Sighting - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sunday Science: Meteor Sighting

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last Sunday, Ethan Rogati was in the right place and right time. While he was taking a time lapse photo of Orion, something else streaked across his shot. The meteor was so quick he says he didn't even see it until later.

"It was pretty interesting because I could tell in the line of the light it wasn't just light, there were little pulses in it so I could tell that it was something that had been breaking up," he says.

His photo went viral on our Facebook page, with thousands of you sharing the image. Rogati says he was lucky that the time lapse was running.

"By the time I would have seen it, reached for the button, pressed it, it would have been gone," he says.

That meteor was seen across the state, including in the Northeast Kingdom.

"He said it was spectacular, very bright and almost frightening at first," says Bobby Farlice-Rubio with the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium.

And what might have looked like a falling plane to some may have been only a tiny rock with a fiery attitude.

"Even a really bright meteor might be made of something the size of a grain of sand," Farlice-Rubio says. "It's actually the bubble of air that surrounds the flying debris that causes it to be so bright."

Meteors are rocks -- pieces of asteroids that have broken up, or debris left by passing comets -- that get swept up by the Earth's rotation. Friction in the atmosphere causes them to burn up.

"They sort of just fall apart and glow and most of them never make it to the ground," he says. "Most meteors that are going to hit the earth hit the earth as microscopic dust."

Occasionally one is made of something strong enough like iron and it makes it to the ground, or more likely, the ocean. The planetarium has one meteor on display that fell in South America centuries ago. And almost a year ago, shards of another hit the ground in a brilliant, and damaging, display in Russia. Farlice-Rubio estimates that one was maybe 70 tons of rock, but by the time it hit it was mostly gravel and one larger chunk.

He says the one we saw last week probably didn't even make it to the ground.

"Even if it did, based on the trajectory that people saw, it probably landed somewhere in Nebraska for all we know," he says.

As for Rogati, he says he's just going to have to wait and see if something else surprises him.

"This was a once in a I don't know however long, lifetime, whatever shot. I doubt I'd be able to duplicate it again," he says.

And Farlice-Rubio says meteors aren't rare; he described it as a constant rain of debris hitting the earth. But you do have to have the right conditions, like a clear sky and little to no light pollution, to see them.

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