Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Wednesday, Nov. 18 was a typical morning at Pacific Union School's early morning daycare program, when just before 7:15 a.m., Gail Zanotti heard an excited five-year-old exclaim that "a fireball just went over my head!"
Curious, she went outside to take a look, and it turned out to be more than just a little boy's vivid imagination. A fresh smoke trail from a possible meteorite was clearly visible to the east. Zanotti grabbed her cell phone and started taking pictures.
"I ran outside, and I snap snap snap the trail, but didn't see the fireball," Zanotti recalls.
Nor did she directly observe any impact, as the object landed out of view. Still, she's certain something struck the ground; she's just not sure where.
"It threw up a big cloud of dust," she said. "Was it up past Kneeland, or where was that?"
She then noticed a second set of north-to-south smoke trails in a different location, apparently from more objects headed southbound.
The children were excited to see the sky come alive. "The one little boy was jumping up and down and screaming about it," Zanetti said.
Paola Rodriguez Hidalgo, an assistant professor in Humboldt State's Dept. of Astronomy and Physics, confirmed that the objects could well have been from outer space.
The annual Leonid Meteor Shower takes place Nov. 6 through 30, peaking Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 18 and 19 – right when Zanotti saw the mysterious smoke trails.
The Leonid Meteor Shower occurs when Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, ramming into its celestial debris cloud.
"It could be," Hidalgo said. "I'm not saying it is." She noted the similarities of Zanotti's photos to those of the meteorite that struck Russia in February.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) office on Woodley Island has no radar record of the incident, according to a spokesman. "We looked and can't find anything," he said.
Hidalgo said Humboldt State's observatory up Fickle Hill Road, presently used only for classes, may resume public viewing nights. She also plans to bring telescopes – with proper filters – to the Farmers' Market next year so that attendees can observe the sun and its sunspots.
On Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 2 p.m., an Astronomy Hour takes place at Humboldt State's Goodwin Forum, Nelson Hall East Room 102.
It is to be a free, informal event. Students will interact with the public to talk about several interesting topics in astronomy: Why are we star stuff? How is the Sun going to die? How will that affect life on Earth? Is there a dark side of the Moon? What are supernova and supernova remnants? How are the stars at the beginning of their lives? Why more mass doesn't mean larger for some stars? Discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, and many more cool discoveries and things they have learned this semester.
Said Hidalgo, "Everybody is welcome, although we have tailored this event for youth and adults (we will have events for kids in the future)."