Unusually colorful meteor lights up skies over Juneau Wednesday night

Posted: Friday, March 15, 2002

A meteor in bursts of green and yellow light flashed across the sky east of Juneau late Wednesday night, some residents said.

Mark Olsen, who lives at Lena Point, said he was just going to bed at about 11 p.m. when "I saw this kind of greenish light coming down Lynn Canal. I thought it was a plane at first."

The light, coming from the north, was large and didn't appear to be moving fast, Olsen said. The object, which he saw above the mountains to the east, broke up into four or five pieces moving in a line, and they turned orange before fizzling out.

"It just disappeared in mid-air," Olsen said.

Meteors are fiery streaks of light that occur when mineral objects from space hit the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrate. If any of the material falls to Earth, it's called a meteorite. Meteors travel at about 32,000 to 150,000 mph, according to New England Meteoritical Services.

Wednesday's object was bright enough to cast a flickering shadow on the ground, which is why South Douglas resident Kent Crabtree noticed it as he was walking on a Douglas beach, his back to the light.

Turning toward the light, "I saw the thing coming right over the mountains, basically right over Sheep Creek, from where I was, and just over the mountaintops," Crabtree said.

The object broke into four pieces, but only three, spread out in a line, were visible at first because they glowed a blue-greenish color, he said. Then the fourth piece, in the lead, became apparent as it lit up in a yellowish color, he said.

"So you had the yellow fireball going along," Crabtree said.

Olsen and Crabtree said they didn't hear any noise from the meteor or hear a crash.

Reporters at the Whitehorse Daily Star said Thursday they hadn't heard of anyone in the Canadian town 150 miles northeast of Juneau who saw the meteor. The National Weather Service in Juneau hadn't heard of the meteor, either.

"It was by far the most spectacular I've ever seen," said Crabtree, who said he has viewed two meteors before.

During part of the year there are meteor showers, when the Earth is passing through the debris field of a comet, said Michael Orelove, a volunteer at the Marie Drake Planetarium.

Orelove said he has stood on Sandy Beach and watched meteors streak through the sky about once every few minutes for an hour. But this isn't the time of year for a meteor shower, he said.

"So that's exciting to see a meteor," Orelove said of Olsen's and Crabtree's experience. "First of all, to see anything in our sky in Juneau is exciting because of our weather. ... To see something like a meteor is very special."

On Jan. 12, 2000, some Juneau residents saw a large meteor, which exploded over the Yukon Territory village of Carcross, about 100 miles from Juneau. It was the largest of its kind over dry land in 10 years, news reports at the time said.

The powerful explosion was seen and felt by people in Canada and Alaska hundreds of miles from Carcross, according to astronomers and Canadian news reports.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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