Tuesday 26 September 2017

OT: The brilliant fireball over the Netherlands of 21 September 2017, 19:00 UT, a piece of comet Encke

The fireball as photographed from Ermelo, the Netherlands. Image (c) Koen Miskotte

In the evening of 21 September 2017 at 21:00:10 CEST (19:00:10 UT), a brilliant fireball, as bright as the first quarter moon, appeared over the Netherlands. It was widely seen and reported and garnered quite some social media and press attention (e.g. here). The next day I was live in a Dutch TV program to talk about it.

The fireball was captured by six all-sky camera stations of the Dutch-Belgian all-sky meteor camera network operated by amateurs of the Dutch Meteor Society and KNVWS Meteor Section: stations Ermelo, Oostkapelle, Borne, Utrecht, Twisk and Wilderen, operated by respectively Koen Miskotte, Klaas Jobse, Peter van Leuteren, Felix Bettonvil, Marco Verstraaten and Jean-Marie Biets.

The image in the top of this post shows the photograph taken by the all-sky camera in Ermelo (courtesy Koen Miskotte), where the fireball appeared almost right overhead. The image below was taken by the all-sky camera in Utrecht (courtesy Felix Bettonvil), showing it slightly lower in the sky (click the images to enlarge).

The fireball as photographed from Utrecht, the Netherlands. Image (c) Felix Bettonvil

In the photographs above, the "dashed" appearance of the fireball trail is caused by an LCD shutter between the lens and the camera CCD, which briefly interupts the image at a set interval. For Ermelo this was 14 interuptions per second, for Utrecht 10 interuptions per second.

Knowing the shutter frequency you get the duration of the fireball by counting the number of shutter breaks in the trail: in the case of this fireball, it lasted over 5.3 seconds. Together with triangulation information on the path of the trail in the atmosphere, it gives you the speed of the fireball in km/s, which is necessary to calculate the orbit in the solar system. It also provides you with information about the deceleration of the meteoroid in the atmosphere. In this case, it entered the atmosphere with a speed of 31 km/s and by the time it had completely burned up at 53 km altitude, the speed had decelerated to 23 km/s.

The fireball fragmented into pieces quite early during its atmospheric entry. Some of these fragmentation events can be seen as brief brightenings (flares) in the images.

Triangulation of the six all-sky images yields the following atmospheric trajectory:

Atmospheric trajectory of the fireball, calculated by the author. Camera stations in yellow.

The  fireball moved almost due east-west. It started over Deventer, crossed over southern Amsterdam and Schiphol airport, and ended over sea. The end altitude at 53 km and end speed of 23 km/s indicate that nothing was left of the original meteoroid by the time the fireball extinguished: no meteorites reached earth surface, it completely ablated away.

The apparent radiant of the fireball was located low in the sky, at 16 degrees elevation and almost due east. The grazing entry into the atmosphere resulted in a long trajectory length of over 150 km.

The geocentric radiant of the fireball is located on the Pegasus-Pisces border, just north of the ecliptic. The radiant and speed, and the resulting orbit in the solar system, show that this was an early member of the northern branch of the Taurid stream complex, a meteor stream complex associated with comet P/Encke. It is active from September to December with a  peak in activity in November. The stream is broken up in several substreams, and the early Northern Taurids from September are sometimes called Northern delta Piscids, one of these substreams in the Taurid complex.

The radiant position and heliocentric orbit for this fireball are shown below.

apparent (observed) and geocentric radiant of the fireball

calculated heliocentric orbit of the meteoroid

Acknowledgement: I thank the photographers (Koen Miskotte, Klaas Jobse, Peter van Leuteren, Felix Bettonvil, Marco Verstraaten and Jean-Marie Biets) for providing their imagery for this analysis.

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