BLACKBERRY TOWNSHIP – Three minutes after 6 a.m. Thursday, Ronald Marcinek was standing outside his house and saw a huge fireball flash through the morning sky.
“The sky was still dark at that time, but dawn was starting to break,” Marcinek said. “I just caught it out of the corner of my eye. It fell south of Elburn, north of Sugar Grove and east of Route 47. I saw it for maybe three seconds, but boy – that thing was big.”
Marcinek, 71, who lives in the Winden Oaks subdivision near Elburn, said it was so large, he could see flames coming off the back end. He said he stayed outside a long time to see whether it landed somewhere nearby and started a fire.
“It went right behind the tall trees, and then it was gone,” Marcinek said. “I did not hear an impact.”
The fireball was a meteorite that traveled east to west in central Indiana, said Mike Hankey, amateur astronomer and operations manager of the American Meteor Society.
He said the society received more than 700 reports of the fireball sighting. The website www.amsmeteors.org lists reports from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Louisiana and Ontario, Canada.
“People were reporting that it was as bright or brighter than the sun,” Hankey said. “To be that bright and be seen when the sun is up, it would have had to have been a meter wide or bigger … and weigh in the thousands of pounds.”
The meteor that fell would be an asteroid, a comet or a piece of a comet that comes into Earth’s atmosphere and falls at speeds of 25,000 to 160,000 miles per hour.
A comet is a giant dirty ice ball, Hankey said.
When a meteor is large enough to pass through Earth’s atmosphere and hit the ground, it is called a meteorite. A fireball, which is what happened Thursday, is a meteor that burns brighter than any planet or star, Hankey said.
“It ablates – like when the space shuttle comes in and the tiles get ripped off because of heat and friction,” Hankey said. “There is so much pressure ... it shatters, 50 percent to 80 percent of it is gone just to melting. All that energy is released through explosion, and then it’s a fireball moving through the sky – boom – and it’s gone.”
The fireball that hit Russia on Feb. 15 was larger, estimated to be 15 to 17 meters in size, Hankey said. Though it injured 1,000 people when it landed, it was big enough to have taken out a whole city, he said.
Marcinek was gratified to learn that hundreds of people saw the same thing.
“I took a dime and held it at arm’s length,” Marcinek said. “It was the diameter of a dime. To me, it was big.”