Did Earth encounter pieces of an alien visitor last night?

Did Earth encounter pieces of an alien visitor last night? Apparently so! It appears tiny pieces of Comet Hartley 2 may have presented a spectacular and startling sky show across the country yesterday. NASA meteor experts had predicted it was a long shot, but the evenings of November 2nd and 3rd might display a meteor shower from dust which puffed off this visiting comet as it passed within twelve million miles of Earth. And indeed, the Center for Astrophysics has collected several sightings of bright meteors called fireballs, which result when comet dust burns up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Helga Cabral in Seascape, California reported after 9 pm last night, “I saw a bright white ball and tail, arcing towards the ocean. It was quite beautiful and it looked like it was headed out to sea and so picture perfect it could have been a movie!” Three thousand miles away just north of Boston, Teresa Witham witnessed a similar cosmic event. “I was in the Revere area about 7:15 last night, driving north on Route 1, when a brilliant object with a tail passed in front of me – very similar in appearance to a shooting star but it appeared much lower to the Earth than a typical shooting star would be. If it weren’t for the fact that I had my daughter with me, I’d begin to believe I’d imagined it.”

Comet Hartley 2 has put on quite a nice show for amateur astronomers over the past few weeks, sporting a vivid green coma or halo around it and a golden auburn tail of dust. NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI probe will present dramatic close-up images of the comet when it zooms past the nucleus on November 4th.

When a comet approaches the Sun, it heats up unevenly, throwing off dust, ice and bits of rock. When the Earth encounters some of this space debris, it is seen as a beautiful meteor shower.

“Many people don’t realize that the famous periodic meteor shower in August, the Perseids, is the remains of Comet Swift-Tuttle and the Orionids, appearing in late October, are leftovers from Comet Halley,” said Tim Spahr, Director of the Minor Planet Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA.

So for the next two evenings, we may see more of Comet Hartley 2. And if you have dark skies and a small telescope or binoculars, try to find Comet Hartley 2 itself. It will be near the bright star Procyon in the constellation Canis Minor near Orion the Hunter, which will be high overhead in the early hours before dawn.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

6 thoughts on “Did Earth encounter pieces of an alien visitor last night?”

  1. I saw this comet too from Carson City, NV shortly after 9:00p and I posted it on my Facebook. It was bright blue and arching. No one posted back that they had seen it though so I Googled it and found this site – thank goodness it wasn’t just me!!

  2. I also saw what i guess was the comet last night around 9:00 pm on my balcony in Thousand Oaks, CA. . It was much larger than any shooting star I have ever seen. Had a blue hue around it and it looked like it was on fire with a flame looking tail. Was really a beautiful sight but it did not last long.

  3. We too saw the meteor! We were driving north on Rt 128, just before Rt 20. Amazingly bright and very low in the sky.

  4. I saw it something from that comet, too. I was driving home a little past 7 PM on Tuesday night (November 3, 2010) when I saw a very low meteor move from the right to left in front of me. It was much lower in the sky than I’ve ever seen a meteor go. It then proceeded to break up into four or five pieces- sort of like a firework does during the 4th of July. It was very bright- so bright I wondered if an airplane was in trouble.

    Curious thing is, I was driving in Worcester, about an hour west of the reported sighting in Revere.

    • I live outside of New York City, and I saw it too. It was spectacular, without a doubt the best meteor display I’ve ever seen.

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