This Week's Amazing Sky: Ever See a Fireball?

June 6, 2016

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This week offers dark moonless skies. Perfect for meteors! We've all seen them streak across the heavens. But did you know that….

You always see more after midnight, when you're on the forward-facing part of Earth

  • You see more from August through early January than any other month
  • You never see the meteoroid itselfjust the glowing air surrounding it
  • Most are the size of apple seeds

Some of these facts seem counterintuitive. After all, a reader recently reported seeing one come down over a neighbor's backyard. Well, yes, they can seem that way. In truth, they either burn to dust or else slow down enough to stop glowing when 60 miles up. So all are between 60 and 120 miles away from you. On this moonless week, if you live away from bright city lights, you'll see six each hour between midnight and dawn.

Perseid Fireball from 2013. Credit:

What's in a Name?


Out in space, the tiny invisible bits of ice, stone, or metal – debris from asteroid or comets – are called meteoroids. When they hit the atmosphere and become visible, they're meteors, or shooting stars, or falling stars.

A rare super-bright one that casts shadows is called a fireball. And if it explodes into glowing pieces, you've been lucky enough to see a bolide.

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s hub for everything stargazing and astronomy. Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, he covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob, the world’s mostly widely read astronomer, also has a new weekly podcast, Astounding Universe

Reader Comments

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Can a fireball be seen during

Can a fireball be seen during the daylight hours. I once many years ago seen something much like explained here, but it was during the day. It appeared as a ball (football shaped) bright light that went across the sky and then what seemed like 2 feet of my vision distance it disappeared. Sorry, I am not likely to believe in little green men. Science and explanation first. lol

Absolutely, and totally, I

Bob Berman's picture

Absolutely, and totally, I believe you! I saw one during broad daylight too, maybe 15 years ago. No doubt about it!

What do you call it when you

What do you call it when you watch a star an it goes out? It was a clear night

Well, no stars should go out,

Bob Berman's picture

Well, no stars should go out, obviously, since even the shortest-lived ones exist for 10 million years. My guess: it went behind a cloud, or else it was a satellite (some appear briefly, then vanish -- especially Iridium satellites) or else aircraft lights, or else a meteor coming straight toward you!

Is a falling star the same as

Is a falling star the same as a fireball? You should see the wad of dust at Greensburg,Ks. Meteorite the size of a VW. I live in the country and see a lot!

A meteor bright enough to

Bob Berman's picture

A meteor bright enough to cast shadows is called a fireball. And if it explodes into pieces, it's called a bolide.


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