Mysterious glow in sky gets residents guessing

While some are thinking of UFO's, experts say light was probably a meteor

Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2000

When he saw the glowing object in the inky sky above downtown, Chris Dolmar wasn't certain if it was his imagination, eye strain or a meteor.

``It looked like a fireball,'' said Dolmar of his experience two minutes before 3 a.m. Tuesday.

``But when it seemed to hover, I thought it was a UFO. I was hoping I wouldn't be like Richard Dreyfus in `Close Encounters of the Third Kind,' and start building the Devil's Tower in mud in my living room,'' he added.

At least six others reported ``something'' in the sky. Experts surmised it was a meteor.

Dolmar, 37, a Salvation Army employee, was taking a computer break at his Douglas picture window when he saw the light.

``It looked like a flare at first,'' he said. ``It just kept getting bigger. It seemed to hover and get brighter.''

Next the mysterious object flowed into an egg shape, glowed in ``a huge red flash,'' and then fell straight down. It dimmed as it fell, and Dolmar thought he saw a tail.

``It seemed to fall in the icefield behind the mountains,'' Dolmar said. ``I braced myself for an impact; that's how spectacular this was. And I don't drink,'' he added.

Although he felt no impact, Dolmar is certain that whatever produced the phenomenal glow was big. ``I know there's a crater back there,'' he said firmly.

Petty Officer Roger Wetherell of the U.S. Coast Guard's Public Affairs office said the Coast Guard had a report of a ``flare.'' The report came in at 3:18 a.m. Tuesday from a crewman on the tug Ocean Ranger.

``We had a report of a white meteor flare in the vicinity of Funter Bay,'' Wetherell said.

The Juneau Police Station also fielded calls about bright lights.

``We had three calls at the time,'' said Lt. Walt Boman, ``and we had another three Tuesday afternoon.''

The first call to JPD reported a fireball that fell behind Thunder Mountain, the size of half a full moon. The second call described a fireball behind Mount Roberts. The third was from Dolmar.

There's a distinct possibility that all the reports stemmed from a meteor, said Greg Durocher, chief of the Earth Science Information Center in Anchorage.

``It might have been the tail end of the Quadrantids, an annual meteor shower that peaks in early January,'' Durocher said

In 1999, a meteor that fell on Jan. 8 or 9 ``lit up the whole of Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley,'' Durocher recalled. That meteor was so bright that ``it lit up people's living rooms,'' he said.

``There are meteors (falling) all the time,'' Durocher said. ``If someone saw one that seemed to be hovering, that would mean it was probably traveling east to west, headed toward (the observer). The direction is right to have been a Quadrantid - but it could have been something totally different.''

Palmer's Tsunami Warning Center monitors seismic data stations in Yakutat and Sitka, but did not record anything unusual Tuesday, such as a meteor impact.

In an odd coincidence of objects celestial, Juneau jewelry designer Bill Spear issued a meteor pin just a couple of days ago.

``I did a comet and a meteor,'' Spear said Tuesday from his coastal California retreat. Spear stopped short of claiming heavenly prescience, however.

``I keep ideas in a mulch pile, and keep turning it over. It just seemed time for a meteor,'' he said.

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