Florida fireballs renew calls for early warning system

Florida fireballs lit up the night sky Sunday. The fireballs (aka meteors) were seen by more than 60 people in Florida. Coming after the huge meteor in Russia, there are new calls for an early warning system to protect the Earth from giant meteors and asteroids.

A fireball, caused by a falling meteor, was seen by spectators from Miami to Jacksonville, Florida, Sunday evening.

The streaking meteor was small compared to the one that hit Russia last week, but it was a bright light in the Florida sky – and was captured on video.

“This one wasn’t grain-of-sand size, which what most of them are,” Thomas Webber, director of the Museum of Science and History’s Bryan-Gooding Planetarium told the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville. “When we get something a little bigger, that maybe has a silicate coating that ablates off as it travels though the atmosphere and takes some of the heat with it, they can appear much brighter and last a lot longer.”

More than 60 people reported seeing the meteor on the American Meteor Society’s “Fireball Log.”

They posted comments including, "I saw flames coming from it as it was falling and then it burned out. It was very distintive as a flaming, falling ball."

The Florida fireball, coming on the heels of the huge meteor that fell in Russia last week and an asteroid that buzzed past the Earth from a distance of just 17,200 miles, is raising awareness of how many objects fall to Earth each day.

The American Meteor Society notes that hundreds, if not thousands, of meteors fall to Earth daily. Most burn up in the atmosphere. But larger meteors, or asteroids, could pose a threat to life on Earth. Recent events have renewed calls for an early warning system, including a telescope in space dedicated to finding asteroids. As The Christian Science Monitor reported recently:

"In their hunt to identify such near-Earth objects wider than half a mile across – potential civilization busters if one were to strike Earth – astronomers have cataloged about 95 percent of the objects in this size class during the past 15 years.

But they have found less than 1 percent of the objects 100 feet across or larger, a class that includes the asteroid 2012 DA14. This object flitted past Earth Friday afternoon Eastern Standard Time a scant 17,200 miles from Earth – a record for a known object of its size."

On Friday, Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee and chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, issued a statement regarding the two events that noted that the committee will hold hearings in the near future to explore ways to improve efforts to detect asteroids as well as to deal with any deemed a potential threat to the planet.

Discussing the recent asteroid flyby and the Russian meteor, Prof. Michio Kaku of City College of New York, told CBS News: "This could be a game changer," in terms of getting government support for better tracking of these objects. "We need an insurance policy. Inevitably, we're going to get hit with a big one. Look at the moon: it's pockmarked ... so we need to have an early warning system."

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