Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Green glow more likely old satellite than meteor

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If you happened to glance at the sky shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday, you may have thought you were getting a preview of tonight's meteor show.

        Many callers to media described seeing a green ball of fire with a fragmented tail in the sky for about 15 seconds.

Story and Infographic

        But two Tristate astronomical experts said the green glow that was reportedly seen from Kentucky to Wisconsin wasn't part of the Leonid meteor shower due to arrive late tonight. Instead, it was probably a dead man-made satellite re-entering Earth's atmosphere.

        “It's definitely not a meteor,” said Paul D. Nohr, an astronomer with the Cincinnati Observatory who did not witness the light show. “According to descriptions, it sounds like it was probably a satellite.”

        “Satellites are composed of copper wiring,” said Grant H. Martin, a past president and member of the Cincinnati Astronomical Society. “The green color is most likely coming from the copper. When it burns, it makes a green flame.”

        In addition, the path the falling debris took was from west to east across the horizon.

        “Meteors would travel from east to west and they'd be going a lot faster,” Mr. Martin said. A meteor would travel about 70,000 mph, he said. Satellites are programmed to travel at about 18,000 mph. That's why it would stay in the sky much longer.”

        Mr. Martin said the debris likely burned and disintegrated before reaching the ground.

        Rick Marra of West Chester was driving north on Snider Drive in Symmes Township when he saw the fragmented object about 7:04 p.m.

        “My wife kept saying "Rick, stop looking up, stay on the road,'” he said. “Whatever it was I saw, it was huge.”

        The Leonid meteor shower occurs every year around Nov. 17, when Earth passes through a stream of debris left by comet Tempel-Tuttle. The major Leonid storms tend to occur about every 33 years.


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