[CNI News thanks Kenny Young of TASK (firstname.lastname@example.org) for forwarding the text of a February 15 Associated Press story on fireball sightings, and Marilyn Roper for sending a story from the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, dated January 30, 1998.]
In the February 1 edition of CNI News, we reported an unusual cluster of fireball sightings over Colorado and Wyoming that occurred on January 27, 1998. In one instance, a fireball over Wyoming caused turbulance felt by a commercial airline pilot flying in the area. At least two and possibly three or more separate fireballs were also sighted that day, within a few hours of each other, in the vicinity of Breckenridge, Colorado.
Only later did we learn from a reader in Maine that on that same day, January 27, at least one and perhaps two large fireballs were seen and heard by many witnesses in northern Maine and the nearby border region of Canada.
According to the Bangor Daily News, many witnesses were first alerted to the event when they heard a series of loud explosions in the sky.
Pam Pelletier of St. Agatha, Maine, said she was walking her dog at about 7:30 pm that night when she heard a loud noise in the northern sky. "It sounded like an explosion, a thunderclap," she said. "It was a series of explosions, more than one, maybe as many as seven or eight." From her vantage point, Pelletier could not see anything in the sky.
But police departments in Fort Kent and Madawaska, in the northernmost part of Maine near the Canada border, received reports of a bright fireball.
Ellen Cousins of Millinocket said she saw the "bright orange thing streak across the sky" between 7 and 8 pm. "It reminded me of a gun flare. It was bright orange with a white tail. It was bright all around this thing. I have never seen anything like this," she said.
Kelly Sirois and her father Ron Sirois of Oakland said there were two distinct explosion about two hours apart. "It happened twice, about 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm," Kelly said. It was kind of like something hitting the house."
Eveyln Robinson was driving on Interstate 95 from Houlton toward Island Falls when she saw it. She put the time at about 9:30 pm. "It was very fast, very bright, and falling to the ground at a 45-degree angle. It was very shocking to see that so close. It unnerved me a bit," she said.
The Federal Aviation Administration said there were no missing planes in the area. A spokesman for a local planetarium said no major meteor activity had been expected, although the eyewitness accounts sounded to him like meteor sightings.
Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, still another object -- thought to be a meteorite -- was seen and heard at sunrise in eastern Colorado on January 30, making at least four separate fireballs seen over Colorado during the month. Two of those were bright enough to be widely seen on broad daylight, and also had trails of smoke.
"The smoke trail is an indication that the object was quite big and strong," said Doug Revelle, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "Over the globe we see objects that are about a meter across an average of only 12 times a year."
Scientists familiar with the recent sequence of events are genuinely puzzled.
"We can't attribute it to anything. But it is unusual to have so much activity," said Jack Murphy of Denver's Museum of Natural History. Doug Revelle agreed that it would be hard to account for so many events in this short span of time.
University of Denver astronomer Robert Stencel suggested that Earth may be getting pelted with pieces of the Hale-Bopp comet. Early in January the Earth passed through the part of space the comet had traveled. "Comets are like kids with muddy boots," Stencel said. "They leave a trail of debris in their wakes."
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