Event: 20181220-013502

A fireball was observed at 5:35 PM Pacific Standard Time (2018 December 20 1:35 UTC) by well over a hundred members of the public in the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon. This event was unusual not for the brightness of the fireball, which was similar to that of a crescent Moon, but for the persistent train left behind after the object ablated. This persistent train lasted for minutes (compared to the one second duration of the fireball) and was caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles left behind by the meteoroid as it broke apart in Earth's atmosphere. Upper atmosphere winds distorted the train over time, giving it a curvy, "orkscrew" appearance. There are videos and images of this event and the persistent train on the American Meteor Society.

An analysis of the eyewitness accounts indicates that the meteor first became visible at an altitude of 48 miles over the Pacific Ocean some 50 miles west of the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Moving west of south at 63,000 miles per hour, it managed to survive only a second or so before ablating and breaking apart at an altitude of 34 miles above the ocean.

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Event Data

Event ID 20181220-013502
Date (UTC) Dec. 20, 2018
Time (UTC) 01:35:02
AMS Event 5618-2018
Chicken Little Start Lat/Lon +37.711, -123.106
Chicken Little End Lat/Lon +37.260, -124.281
Chicken Little Altitude 60.6 km → 46.3 km ( 37.6 miles→ 28.8 miles)
Chicken Little Speed 58.6 km/s (131,100 mph)