Flashes may be meteor

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Brilliant flashes of blue-white light, in some areas accompanied by rumbling, startled Southeast residents this morning.

Reports of the phenomenon came into Canadian Customs and Whitehorse and Haines and both Juneau Police and Skagway Police. Juneau witnesses likened it to ``when a transformer blows'' or ``blasts of lightning'' - two or three distinct flashes, occurring one or two seconds apart.

Today's event may be related to the fireball seen shortly before 3 a.m., Jan. 12 in Juneau. Greg Durocher of the Earth Science Information Center in Anchorage theorized that the Jan. 12 phenomenon stemmed from the Quadrantids, an annual meteor shower that peaks in early January.

What Juneau saw today, Durocher said, was ``definitely a meteor.''

``It's too late for the Quadrantids,'' Durocher said, ``so it was just one of the strays that wander through the solar system. We are continually bombarded with rice- or sand-size grains. Every once in a while, a large one comes in. If it is the size of a basketball or bigger, you would hear the sonic boom.''

The flashes occurred about 7:45 a.m., said Juneau Police Lt. Walt Boman.

``There were three bright flashes in the sky,'' Boman said. ``Several people saw them, including some of the people who work here.''

Witnesses in Skagway had the impression that the phenomenon came from the north, toward Whitehorse.

``I didn't see the lights; I heard noises - which apparently happened at the same time,'' said maintenance man Scott Logan of Skagway.

``They were quite lengthy rumbling. I thought it was my dogs fighting on my deck. I work at home, and an employee sitting next to me remarked on all the noise the dogs were making,'' Logan said.

``Almost instantly my phone rang, and a friend from Dyee (seven miles away) said, `Did anything weird just happen?' And I said, `Nothing but a whole bunch of noise.' To him, it seemed like it became daylight suddenly.''

Scott Guenther, communications supervisor with the Alaska State Troopers, was driving to work, near Floyd Dryden Middle School, when he saw the lights.

``It was three bright flashes that lit up everything. It seemed to be directly overhead.''

When Guenther reached his office, he had three calls from Haines about the phenomenon.

KHNS Radio in Haines received more than 20 calls by 9:30 this morning - 10 of them within 10 minutes of the flash, said Amanda Stossel, news host of KHNS Radio in Haines.

One of those calls came from Mike Kinison, 46, a surveyor who lives at Mosquito Lake, 30 miles from Haines.

``My best guess would be a meteor,'' Kinison said. ``I had just stepped off my porch. There were no (city) lights around. It looked like somebody turned a bunch of floodlights on in the yard, and of course I looked up.

``It appeared to be a shooting star streaking west to east. It had a real bright light at its head, and what seemed to be flames immediately behind, and then half-a-mile-long trail of orange smoke,'' he said. He viewed the phenomenon clearly for five to 10 seconds, he said.

About 10 minutes later, noise came - reverberating off the mountains around Mosquito Lake. ``My wife and I felt an explosion and the house shook,'' Kinison said.

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