Trajectory of August fireball points to central Alberta landing, scientists say

Scientists have calculated that a fireball seen in the Edmonton area on Aug. 31 ended its trajectory above Camrose, Alta.

Search now underway for any meteorites associated with the event

Wes Glassford managed to snap a picture when the fireball crossed the sky, heading south over Beaumont, Alta. at about 10:25 p.m. MT on Aug. 31. (Wes Glassford)

People near Camrose are being asked to help search for something that fell from the sky.

On Aug. 31, people took to social media with photos and videos of a mysterious bright object in the sky over the Edmonton area.

Many speculated that it appeared to be a meteor. They were right, say scientists from the University of Alberta.

"Scientists have verified with almost pinpoint-accuracy the trajectory of the fireball, along with the potential area where any meteorites associated with the event may have fallen," the university's faculty of science said Wednesday in a news release.

Using data from a University of Alberta all-sky network camera at Lakeland College, triangulated with a "spectacular" image from photographer Shane Turgeon — which was confirmed by other photos from the public — scientists have been able to verify the trajectory of the fireball.

The calculations were done by researchers at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, as part of the Global Fireball Observatory.

The fireball ended 20 kilometres above Camrose, about 100 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, which may explain reports of a sonic boom by residents in the area, the release said.

Despite hours of "exhaustive searching" no meteorites have been found.

"While we haven't found any meteorites yet, we are confident they are out there," said Chris Herd, professor and meteorite expert at the U of A.

"We've got the land use on our side, because I think once the crops are cleared off the searching shouldn't be too difficult," Herd said. "I'm optimistic that something's out there waiting to be found."

The wet summer means that crops are late this year, so it could be weeks before fields are cleared and more searching can take place.

The rock that entered the Earth's atmosphere that night is estimated to have been about 50 kilograms, he said.

"So we might be looking at something as small as one kilogram — so maybe a fist size or two fists size rock," Herd said. "This could really be a needle in a haystack kind of situation."

A meteorite will have a black exterior with a fusion crust — glassy material — that forms as the rock comes through the atmosphere, Herd said. If the fusion crust is flaked off, the interior will be a lighter grey colour.

For people wanting to do a search of their own, there are a few things they need to know.

Any meteorites found on a public right of way, such as a road, belong to the finder. Meteorites found on private land belong to the landowner.

Either way, researchers at the U of A are keen to study any meteorites that landed during this event. 

"Every newly fallen meteorite is like a spacecraft bringing a sample back from an asteroid or another planet," Herd said. "It's a chance to study a nearly pristine sample from space."


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