SpaceX and the Fireball

by | Jan 10, 2022 | 0 comments

SpaceX satellite launch, fireball
SpaceX launch and fireball. Photo © Jason Rinehart.

The skies were dark from the Pine Tree overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. I had come here on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, to photograph the SpaceX, Falcon 9 rocket launch. The launch was to occur from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 9:03 p.m. EST, and carry four new crew members to the International Space Station.

My cameras were pointed southeast over Potters Mountain in Bedford County, Virginia, where I have seen launches in the past.

I logged into mission control live as the countdown to launch began. As soon as I saw Falcon 9 leave the launch pad, I started both my cameras even though it would be two to four minutes before the rocket came into my view. I was using two Canon 6D cameras. One had a Sigma 14-24 mm lens, and the other a Sigma 70-200. Both cameras were set to ISO1600, f/2.8, and a15-second shutter speed.

Shortly after Stage 2 separation, I saw Falcon 9 breaking over the horizon. By 9:09 p.m., SpaceX was moving out of both my frames, so I repositioned my cameras.

At 9:11 p.m., the biggest meteor I’ve ever seen blitzed its way through the atmosphere. The fireball was big and green and seemed to illuminate everything around it.

Meteors are made of various elements, and, depending on their composition, they glow different colors while burning. Iron, one of the most common elements found in meteors, glows yellow. Silicates, which contain a form of the element silicon, glow red. A green glow, clearly visible in the trail of this shooting star, indicates the presence of burning nickel.

Following is the report from the American Meteor Society about this stunning meteor.

At 9:11 PM Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday night—just a few minutes after the Crew-3 Falcon 9 rocket lifted off the pad at KSC—hundreds of skywatchers in the east coast states reported seeing a bright fireball. Analysis of the eyewitness accounts posted on the American Meteor Society website, combined with data from a NASA camera located in western North Carolina and other publicly accessible videos indicate that the meteor first became visible 48 miles above Greenville, North Carolina. Moving northwest at 33,000 miles per hour, it survived only 3.5 seconds before disintegrating 28 miles above Macclesfield. At its brightest, the fireball rivaled the Full Moon, suggesting it was caused by an object roughly 45 pounds in weight and 10 inches in diameter. The low speed implies an asteroidal origin.

Editor’s note: Meteors like this are always stunning (and rare) to see, but to capture the photo, as did Mr. Rinehart, is just superb!

Fireball
Fireball. Photo © Jason Rinehart.

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