by Dr. Ed Berry
It was November 29, 1945, in Sacramento, California. I was ten-years old and outdoors playing ball with my friends. At 5:00 pm, it was still very light.
Suddenly, I saw a bright meteor coming from the west. I pointed to the meteor and yelled to my friends. We watched in amazement as the meteor silently streamed a bit south of over our heads. Its course was a little north of east.
I immediately went home and drew this picture with the best coloring pens I had.
The green-ball meteor was crystal clear. Behind it was a trail of flames in colors of red, yellow, and blue.
I recall the angular size of the meteor was about half the angular size of the moon, or about 1/4 degree. So if we guess its altitude, we can estimate its size.
Today, we know that meteors like this “flame out” and go dark at about 30 km or about 19 miles altitude. If we assume I saw this meteor when it was 20 miles high, then its diameter would have been about 460 feet.
Also, I recall the meteor took about 10 seconds to go from where I first saw it at about 20 degrees elevation in the west to when it disappeared about 20 degrees elevation in the east.
By the way, these degree elevations are difficult to estimate. I was playing on a street running north-south. There was no auto traffic in those days. One-story homes were on both sides of the street. But there was a vacant lot on the west where I saw the meteor coming.
Just for fun, let’s assume 20 degrees is correct and the meteor was 20 miles high. Using the trig I learned since then, this means I watched the meteor cover a distance of about 110 miles in about 10 seconds.
Call it 100 miles in 10 seconds. This is 36,000 mph. This corresponds to current data that estimates the speed of such meteors at about 30,000 mph.
That’s one of those 10-second experiences that seemed to last an hour. It’s memory lasted a lifetime.
A few other lucky people saw this meteor. Reports were that it likely landed somewhere in northeast Nevada which is where it was aiming. But to my knowledge no one ever found it.
Sacramento was a small town back then. About 50,000 people. The Sacramento Bee learned of my drawing and published the article shown below. Later, the Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society sent me two nice letters, shown below.
The Astronomical Society called this meteor a “fireball.” Some 25 to 30 years later, I won national and international championships in an racing-class sailboat called a “Fireball.”
What a difference in communication then and now. No computers. No text editing. No cell phones. No Twitter. If people saw a meteor like this today, their cell-phone photos and movies would be on the net in 5 minutes.
I count this as my first professional publication. 🙂