Fireball over the U.K. and Ireland September 21, 2012

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The American Meteor Society has received over 125 reports of a bright meteor that occurred near 23:00 (11:00pm GMT) on Friday September 21, 2012, over the United Kingdom and Ireland. Brightness estimates of this fireball vary considerably, but the average lies near magnitude -13, which is equivalent to the light produced by the full moon. Every color of the rainbow has been reported with orange being the most predominant. Evidently this object lasted much longer than the average fireball and a majority of the reports mentioned fragmentation. Summaries of individual reports may be viewed in the 2012 AMS Fireball Table Refer to event #1379 for 2012.

For those not familiar with meteors and fireballs, a fireball is a meteor that is larger than normal. Most meteors are only the size of small pebbles. A meteor the size of a softball can produce light equivalent to the full moon for a short instant. The reason for this is the extreme velocity at which these objects strike the atmosphere. Even the slowest meteors are still traveling at 10 miles per SECOND, which is much faster than a speeding bullet. Fireballs occur every day over all parts of the Earth. It is rare though for an individual to see more than one or two per lifetime as they also occur during the day, on a cloudy night, or over a remote area where no one sees it. Observing during one of the major annual meteor showers can increase your chance of seeing another one of these bright meteors.

Meteors often appear much closer than they really are. I receive countless reports that the object landed just over the hill when in fact it was several hundred miles away and was witnessed over several states. It is your perspective that makes meteors appear to strike the horizon when in fact they are still high in the atmosphere. This is much like a jetliner seen low in your sky. It appears low to you but for someone located many miles away in that direction, the jetliner is passing high overhead. Meteors become visible at approximately 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. Friction slows these objects down until they fall below the velocity necessary to produce light. At this point they still lie at least 5 miles high in the sky. They are invisible below this altitude and cannot be seen as they basically free falling to the ground at 200mph. Very few meteors actually reach the ground as 99.99% completely disintegrate while still 10-20 miles up in the atmosphere.

Robert Lunsford

American Meteor Society

9/22/2012 – UPDATE on UK Ireland Fireball

Here is a map of all observations reported to the AMS for this event.  Click the image below for an interactive Google Map for this event. Once the map is loaded you can click the icons to read the reports.

September 21st UK and Ireland Fireball - Click For Interactive Map

Red icons represent movement left to right, while green means movement right to left. The green lines show the azimuth where the fireball was first seen and yellow is the azimuth where it was last seen.

The AMS asks witnesses to self evaluate their astronomy and observing experience.  The map below shows only reports where the witness rated themselves with experience level >= 3.

September 21st UK and Ireland Fireball Level 3 - Click For Interactive Map

If you witnessed this event please, submit an official fireball report with the American Meteor Society.

Numerous videos of this meteor have been captured. Here is one that clearly shows the fragments :

More great videos of this event on the Bad Astronomy Blog.

Mike Hankey

American Meteor Society



  • Gerry McGovern 10 years ago

    time approx 23:00 GMT location Edinburgh Scotland.
    Caught glimpse of what I thought was plane over the roof tops,as we live on flight path for Edinburgh airport this is quite a common sight.
    but it seemed very low and the wrong angle for a plane take off.
    My first thought was the plane engine on fire.
    Ran outside and watched as 8 small fire balls all traveling at the same speed and direction(E to W) passed over the night sky and appeared to be low in the sky and travelling horizontally almost in a controlled formation.
    As they moved further east light dimmed and they disappeared from sight.
    I have seen shooting stars in the past but never never seen anything like this before and appearing so close.
    For a split second almost anything was possible,blew me away.

    Reply to Gerry
    • des fenton 10 years ago

      I saw pretty much same as gerry mcgovern reported.
      About 30miles distance difference. I thought it was a plane on fire also heading west. Bright orange in colour in sky for about 2 minutes then disappeared. Wish had caught it on video.

      Reply to des
    • ciaran foley 10 years ago

      it was amazing and just like what you explained but as i live in Sligo Ireland atlantic next stop and the fireballs came from an easterly direction heading out over sea northwesterly as they flew over my head there were more than 8 and quiet large the best 20+ seconds of viewing ever class.

      Reply to ciaran
  • eva ball 10 years ago

    just before 11pm dalbeattie scotland
    standing out the back of my new house which is woodland, and sits on its own,its also pitch black seen a bright bright light through the trees next thing it was right over the top of my house.
    never ever seen anything like it and looked so close,my dad was standing with me and has never seen anything like it either.
    seemed like ages to pass over the house but was probably only seconds…one word describes it….amazing!
    dont think il ever forget that

    Reply to eva
  • theresa stokes 10 years ago

    I too saw this fireball could not believe how low it was so bright orange mainly and so much left in its trail too feel very lucky to have seen this probs wont ever see one so clear and low again fantastic.

    Reply to theresa
  • Theunissen 10 years ago

    Hello we saw the same light in Neerpelt Belgium at midnight it was green yellow light .

    Reply to Theunissen
  • Lee Drunen Netherlands 10 years ago


    This fireball , or better said these meteors have been sighted since 19th september. Does anyone know from what group these are?

    Is it Beta Aurigids (BAU) or September Lyncids or another group.

    I believe the sightings are more spectacular then excepted , what is the explanation for that.


    Reply to Lee
  • russell good 10 years ago

    Just before 23.00 hrs my eye caught site of bright object low in the sky, travelling on east – west trajectory, first white – yellow colour spectrum, breaking up into about 7 pieces all falling in the same axis and speed, yellow to orange colour. This was a rare event, I’ve been watching the night sky for a long time and this was a most unusual and magical event, as most meteors I have seen are shooting stars that last a glimpse of a second. But this was a long time event by comparison, 20 seconds or so before it went out of site. Possibly too slow, but where this was crossing the earths atmosphere I don’t know. I thought there must be ground contact somewhere. Very lucky to have been driving at right angles to the flight axis. Lucky as this part of the road is north south for 100 meters.

    Reply to russell
  • Ian 10 years ago

    I observed this “meteorite” fire ball from the beer garden of the Hallamshire house pub in Sheffield. I was looking almost due East at the time of the sighting.
    The timing was approx 11pm and the fireball was bright white and moving from the South East Towards the North West.
    Unfortunately I didn’t see it break up, but others in the garden with me said they saw it break up (i.e. from 1 big bright light into several smaller objects).

    Kind regards,


    Reply to Ian
  • Patrycja Jachulska 10 years ago

    I was having a cigarette outside tequila night club in Bradford when one of the bouncers shouted ” IT STARTED .! ” I didn’t know what he is talking about so I decided to look and I saw this huge fireball above Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, it was massive I panicked and just before going inside I saw it breaking into few smaller pieces. It was scary !

    Reply to Patrycja
  • Patrycja Jachulska 10 years ago

    It was exacly 10:46 pm I will never forget this!

    Reply to Patrycja
  • Lucky Boy 10 years ago

    Saw what looked like two bright aircraft lights moving from east to west very low in the sky with one not far behind the other. Witnessed this from Somerset about 25 miles south of Bristol. I was looking north and thought the lights were two aircraft from the nearby airport going across to Cardiff. My friend shouted that it was a meteor which I didnt believe initially. As the long tail burst into orange flame with what looked like sparks trailing behind I actually said it was an aircraft on fire and fully expected it to crash. I also noticed the second light behind didnt have a tail but proceeded across the sky at the same speed. We followed it across the sky for about ten seconds before losing sight behind a building. The thing that sticks out in my mind are the flames coming out the back looked like the sort you see flaring off of bonfires. whatever it was must have been very large.

    Reply to Lucky
  • Rebecca Moore 10 years ago

    We were traveling across the north York moors on September 21st. We were very high up and it was very dark. My husband saw it approaching from our right and it passed directly over the top of our car. It was bright green followed by white lights which were all traveling at the same speed in a very controlled and smooth movement. It didn’t seem to lose height at all and seemed to be very close and traveling slowly. We stopped the car to watch it for about a minute and quite honestly couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

    Reply to Rebecca
  • Ann Hansen 10 years ago

    I spend three weeks in Karpathos in The Aegean Sea every September hiking. In 2012 on September 21st I was sitting on my balcony in the main town of Pigadia looking at the bay in northern direction.
    My studio is situated a bit up a hillside, so I had a good view. Suddenly I
    see a big white shining thing sailing over the bay also in northern
    direction between 8.30 and 9 PM as I recall it. It’s altitude is
    about 600 meters and it’s diving.
    I instinctively prepare to duck, because at first I think it’s a meteorite,
    and that it’s going to crash into the promontory on the other side of the
    bay 4 kilometers away. The promontory is 500 m high.
    But I am to fascinated to take cover as the thing barely manage to clear the ridge of the promontory and disappears on the other side. But as it flies over the ridge, it begins to disintegrate. I clearly see glowing red parts
    falling off. These parts fall on the eastern side of the promontory.
    I can’t forget the sight, and this year I spend some days hiking in that
    area to see if I could find anything.
    I realise it may very well have been space junk. It looked like a big white
    shining sheet flying kind of askew with one corner ahead. I know one hundred percent that there ARE remains of the thing on the ground.

    It certainly wasn’t a meteorite, because the size of it would have caused
    and enormous blast like that in Russia recently. It was approximately the
    size of a jumbojet only ‘flat’, and the crash seemed somehow controlled; I
    don’t mean it crashed on purpose, but it seemed, that there where some
    attempt to keep it airborn across the ridge of the promontory. But I may be wrong on that point.
    I also reported this to Nuforc. There are many reports from that evening – some very similar to mine. Those postings are some hours later than mine,
    but it’s still weird.
    But I can assure you, it wasn’t a meteorite…

    Reply to Ann
  • Peter Clark 10 years ago

    Three of us were on a lane between Ellerker and Broomfleet in East Yorkshire on the night of 21st Sept.2012, when what should come trundling horizontally out of the east across the northern horizon at about 5 degrees elevation was a seemingly air born express passenger train with all the carriages lit up. Bright sparks, mainly green, were hissing from the ‘engine’ Duration about 20 seconds for the one who was facing the right way to begin with. As it neared the flat low western horizon it never expired,; just got dimmer and dimmer and apparently lower.. We estimated it overhead between the Tees and the Forth rivers.

    Reply to Peter

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