In the Know: Air Force says widely viewed fireball in Southwest and Central Florida was not space junk

Southwest Florida’s fireball this month was not “decaying space” junk, according to the U.S. Air Force.

The July 14 event is among the most documented within Southwest and Central Florida and Tampa Bay. That’s based on data from the Belgium-based International Meteor Organization, which has records dating to 1980 and became more aggressive in tracking in 2004.

The reports that evening about 9 p.m. largely covered a triangle from Naples through Sanibel and Sarasota to Tampa Bay and across the I-4 corridor through Polk County to Leesburg, Sanford and DeLand.

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Along with a December 2017 occurrence, it was the most watched in this region south of the Ocala National Forest among solely Florida observations.

At the time of the sightings, which lasted less than 10 seconds for most, the IMO agency had listed the brilliant orb as its most seen on the globe for more than a month.

The IMO describes the phenomenon of seeing “a fireball as extremely rare and often a once in a lifetime event.”

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Brian Foshee’s dashcam in Central Florida had captured the “glowing green” object on a YouTube video, with the 45-year-old father exclaiming to his family, “Look at that!”

But what we witnessed in Southwest Florida was remarkably vivid. Those who saw the fiery projectile, many of them veteran observers, say it’s the closest they’d been to one and the brightest, longest flying one they had ever seen.

The Air Force doesn’t believe it was space rubbish.

“The 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California tracks approximately 19,000 in-orbit objects,” said U.S. Space Force Capt. Christopher “Casper” Merian. “There were no re-entries predicted during the time-frame you provided that would have been visible.”

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Experts, such as those at Florida SouthWestern State College, ruled out both the Comet NEOWISE, which was in sky for some later that week, and Perseids, which is expected to peak Aug. 11.

With very few meteorites ever being found in Florida and no debris, it may never be known what fell out of the heavens, according to the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium in Fort Myers.

But after In the Know provided the video to the American Meteor Society, its staff thought it looked like the atypical spotting of a “natural fireball meteor.”

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So if it is a meteor, where did it come from?

Calusa Planetarium Director Heather Preston said meteorites tend to come from places like the asteroid belt, Mars and the moon.

With a renewed interest into what’s above us, the market for the telescope industry is forecast to grow by 2.1 percent over the next five years, according to a recent piece on the Dow Jones network’s MarketWatch. The demand for telescopes is mainly driven by development of astronomical research and the hobby increasing in scope.

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As students out of school during the coronavirus era are turning to online remote learning, many in the space community have been taking up online efforts for science education. Sky & Telescope magazine created a list of homeschooling activities from various sources.

Recent missions by NASA, SpaceX, and other international outfits have also put space exploration back in the public eye, Washington University in St. Louis reported in July.

For a while during pandemic quarantines, some of the world’s most powerful telescopes had to be shut down, according to the Science X news service.

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez ([email protected]) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.

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