Fireballs in the sky prompt calls

Report of UFOs turns out to be meteor shower

If you notice what appears to be a fireball falling from the sky between now and Tuesday, don’t be alarmed.

Chances are it’s not a UFO, but a meteor breaking through Earth’s atmosphere as Gamma Normids winds down its annual shower. Astronomers consider Gamma Normids a weak shower that is best seen from the southern hemisphere. In the mid-northern hemisphere, it’s been known to drop about five meteors per hour in the last hour before dawn. The sightings reported on Sunday were in the afternoon.

“People see shooting stars at night and they’re not too surprised, but when they see it in the daytime, it can catch people off guard,” said Jeff Rent of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

MEMA received three or four calls Sunday from Stone, Jackson and Carroll counties, Rent said. Sightings also were reported in the Jackson area Sunday afternoon and in parts of Louisiana on March 8.

Stone County Emergency Management Director Raven James said he received a call about a possible UFO from a woman in McHenry.

“We don’t ever get calls about a UFO,” James said. “It was just the one call Sunday. I didn’t think too much of it but we sent an officer over there to check it out.”

Authorities received no reports of a meteor touching the ground.

Gamma Normids and other minor meteor showers usually produce little visible activity, according to the American Meteor Society. Gamma Normids’ first reported observance was in 1929. This year’s shower started Feb. 25 and will continue to be active until Tuesday.

Last Sunday was expected to be its strongest day, according to meteorblog.com. The blog predicted a peak of six to 10 meteors per hour and scattered meteors from start to finish. Rent said some callers reported the fireball rattled their windows.

“It likely broke the sound barrier when it entered our atmosphere, causing a sonic boom,” Rent said.

Galactic objects — usually dust and rock — are considered meteroids until they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Friction causes the particles to glow with heat, creating a bright trail or streak of light called a meteor. If it touches ground, it’s called a meteorite, Rent said.

“It’s like the difference between a tornado and a funnel cloud,” said Rent.

By ROBIN FITZGERALD – rfitzgerald@sunherald.com

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