Meteor Punctuates Night Sky over Delaware River

Meteor over New Jersey, March 22nd 2013

by Charles Mattern Jr.

On Friday March 22, 2013 I was walking along the Jersey side of the Delaware River at Taylor’s Farm. In the dark just after sunset suddenly in front of me I saw my shadow. The gravel beach around me was lit-up by a bluish-white flickering light. The source was behind me high in the sky. I thought it was fireworks, something coming from the Philly side of the river and wow! Big enough to make it all the way across to the Jersey side and still that bright?

Starting intersection

Meteor Trajectory

Turning around quickly to see what it was, there above the trees across the open water of Dredge Harbor was an exploding streak. It was angling down across the dark sky to the south-east as thin as a contrail from a high flying jet. It had bright nodes of light along its path connected by a straight glowing line. There were smaller fragments of light along the main trail that got brighter and then flickered out. At the lead, the brightest spot was flickering even brighter occasionally and then after only 4 or 5 seconds it faded out. The faint trace left behind faded out soon after.

It was not fireworks; it was an extraterrestrial meteor traveling very fast into our atmosphere. The resistance of the air at high speed causes friction with the surface of a meteor and heats it up to glowing in seconds. The outer surface boils, expands and breaks away from its relatively cooler interior, like popcorn. The smaller fragments falling with it through the air also vaporize. Bits broke off several times wearing away as it descended, until there was no solid remnant to hit the earth. All its material sheared off into gases in air, then cool and re-solidify as tiny particles of dust floating and falling slowly to earth after it went dark.

Heat Map of Meteor Sightings

I wondered how big it was, was it visible on the other side of the river or maybe farther up river? The eleven o’clock weatherman mentioned there were reports of a meteor and was awaiting photos from viewers to come in. Oh, it was bigger than I thought. The next day on-line the reports clustered around Philadelphia to New York. In a parking lot surveillance video from Delaware it was visible low on their northern horizon. For me it was high in the sky and bright. There were other sightings from the north, New York and Massachusetts. I thought I was pretty close but the map plotted from several sightings shows it first appeared near the Delaware Water Gap crossed New Jersey in seconds and faded out over Staten Island. I was about 50 miles away. It was more than 10 miles high and probably only six to ten feet in diameter. It was even bigger than I thought.

This meteor was too small to have been tracked before it became visible but when lit-up it was bright enough to be visible over a wide area along the east coast. For New York City it would have been bright but hard to see between buildings and with all the ground light. I happened to be in an open area in the dark along the Delaware River.


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