Intense meteor brightens Southcentral Alaska’s winter solstice

A bright white light in the sky, seen from a doorbell camera on a house along a snowy street.
A meteor spotted early Wednesday. (Courtesy Lisa Switzer)

The winter solstice may be short on sunlight, but Alaskans saw a different kind of illumination Wednesday from a falling meteor widely seen across Southcentral Alaska.

Many people in the Talkeetna area said they heard the meteor as it passed overhead. Multiple people posted comments on social media about it, too, describing the meteor as amazing and fast, and saying it lit up the whole sky. Some also posted video footage from their home security cameras, showing a brilliant blue flare.

(Courtesy of Joe Tate)

National Weather Service Climatologist Brian Brettschneider’s Nest door camera recorded the sight in Anchorage’s predawn skies, heading from north to south just before 6 a.m.

Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Brettschneider said the meteor was the first one he’s seen on his doorbell camera.

“This is the most impressive one I’m familiar with in the area,” Brettschneider said.

Meteors are debris from asteroids, comets or other celestial bodies. According to NASA, most meteors burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. Among the nearly 50 tons of debris that descends toward Earth each day, a few rocks can reach the ground and become meteorites.

University of Alaska Fairbanks physics professor Mark Conde said Wednesday that meteors travel at a minimum speed of just under 7 miles per second.

Most are dust particles, but meteors large enough to be heard from the ground are bigger. Conde estimated the size of Wednesday’s rock at somewhere from a grape to a golf ball.

“I think there are many objects that size hitting the Earth every day, but most of them go unseen because either it’s daytime or there’s just no one there to look,” Conde said.

The meteor may be from the Ursid meteor shower, which began Dec. 17 and is expected to peak Thursday and Friday. According to Space.com, the Ursids – pieces of debris from the comet 8P/Tuttle – are typically a low-intensity shower, more widely visible this year due to coinciding with a new moon.

KTNA’s Philip Manning contributed reporting to this story.

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