Simma Sky: Fireball Season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Look up in the sky - it's a's a's a great ball of fire?

There's a reason why songs and legends speak of shooting stars granting wishes. That's because we hardly ever see them up in the night sky. But your odds are slightly better during the spring months to see a brilliant show of light and color, greater than a little shooting star! Yes, we're talking about Fireballs.

Photo Courtesy: Eliot Herman, Geminid fireball in Tucson AZ sky says that meteor showers or shooting stars occur when particles from asteroids or comets enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up. But what's the difference between a shooting star and a fireball? Simple: fireballs are bigger. When larger meteors enter the atmosphere and break apart, it's a much larger display. Hence, "Fireball." While very bright, colorful, and just visually stunning at night, fireballs can also be seen during the day.

Meteoroid Scientists at NASA determined that on any given night, you can go outside and see around 10 fireballs. As long as you're looking the right direction. But during the spring months, that viewing rate climbs anywhere from 10-30%. That begs the question - why can you see more in spring?

Well guess what. We don't know why.

Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Center says scientists have known about the increased rate for about 30 years. He says that during spring, in addition to more fireballs lighting up the sky, there are more meteorites that hit the surface of the Earth.

The "apex of Earth's way" is the direction the earth is traveling. The apex is important because that's where the meteors come from. As the Earth moves towards its own apex, meteors floating in space all of a sudden find themselves in the atmosphere. The best answer scientists can come up with is that the meteor population is larger at that part of Earth's orbit around the sun that we encounter during spring. But there are still a lot of theories floating around as to why exactly that happens.

Photo Courtesy: NASA, Fireball Season as it relates to the Earth's orbit around the sun

I distinctly remember seeing one fireball in my life. And it just so happens I saw it at night while driving! I was following my dad home from church one night, gliding on the little-traveled state highways of rural Oklahoma. Out of nowhere, this huge green light explodes and follows a line like a shooting star would...and then it was gone. As fast as it appeared, the atmosphere burned up all of the space rock...and it was over. It maybe lasted two seconds. I consider myself lucky to have been facing the right direction. And if you're ever fortunate enough to capture a picture of one, I hope you'll share that with me. And the world.

If you want to see video of fireballs over Florida, take a look at NASA's All Sky Fireball Network to see fireballs you might have missed. The network consists of 17 cameras around the country, and three of those are right here in Florida.