Portland police Sgt. Tim Farris was on patrol early Tuesday morning when he witnessed a speeder he never expected: a spectacular fiery streak that lit up the sky just after midnight.

The streak was the apparent trail of a meteor burning up as it passed through the earth’s atmosphere at about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Farris was parked in front of the Central Fire Station on Congress Street looking for speeders at the time, and his cruiser’s dashcam captured the fireball streaking across the sky behind Franklin Towers. The video was posted on the department’s Facebook page Tuesday.

Over in Cumberland, Officer Scott Hendee was on patrol when his dashcam recorded the sky lighting up as the fireball crossed the sky.

“Unfortunately, the fireball and large flame trail were just out of the camera’s frame,” the department wrote on its Facebook page. “It was the most impressive one we’ve ever seen!”

The American Meteor Society shared the Portland video on its website, generating so much traffic it apparently caused the site to crash Tuesday morning. A map posted by the society showed clusters of reports of meteor sightings across coastal Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and a total of 225 sightings from Canada to New Jersey.

This image of a meteor was posted to the Portsmouth Harbor Webcam Facebook page.

This image of a meteor was posted to the Portsmouth Harbor Webcam Facebook page.

“The fireball was seen primarily from Maine but witnesses from Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Ontario (Canada) and Quebec (Canada) also reported the event,” the society said on its website.

The society described the meteor as “an amazing experience for witnesses.”

“There was a 3 to 5 minute delay from the time I saw it to the boom I heard and felt, very loud and shook the home, unlike anything I have ever experienced before,” wrote Craig C. of Canton, Maine, in a comment posted on the society’s website.

People commenting on the society’s Facebook page said the meteor could be seen and heard in Rumford and Canton in Maine and as far away as Coventry, Rhode Island.

The American Meteor Society is asking anyone who saw the meteor early Tuesday to fill out an official “fireball report” through its website.

This dashcam image from a police car in Pittsburgh, Pa., shows a meteor entering earth's atmosphere that a police officer in Portland witnessed at the same moment early Tuesday morning. Courtesy American Meteor Society

This dashcam image from a police car in Pittsburgh, Pa., shows a meteor entering earth’s atmosphere that a police officer in Portland witnessed at the same moment early Tuesday morning. Courtesy American Meteor Society

A meteor is the flash of light that can be seen in the night sky when a small chunk of interplanetary debris burns up as it passes through the atmosphere. The debris itself is called a meteroid.

Most meteors occur in the region of the atmosphere called the thermosphere. This “meteoric region” is between 50 to 75 miles in altitude. Most meteors enter the atmosphere at speeds ranging from 25,000 mph to 160,000 mph, according to the American Meteor Society.

A fireball – like the one spotted in Portland – is another term for a very bright meteor, generally with the same magnitude of the planet Venus in the morning or evening sky. Several thousand meteors of fireball magnitude occur in the Earth’s atmosphere each day, but the vast majority occur over oceans or uninhabited regions. Many are masked by daylight, according to the American Meteor Society.

Barbra Barrett, director of the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel, would like people who saw, heard or felt the meteor to contact her with information about what they witnessed. She’s hoping the witness accounts could help locate where the meteorite actually landed so it could be recovered and included in the museum’s extensive display of meteorites from around the world. She said it is rare for a meteorite to be found in Maine because most fall in wooded areas or in the water.

“I think there’s a real possibility here to recover the meteorite,” Barrett said. “It’s a unique opportunity for Maine the see and possibly recover a meteorite after seeing a fireball in the sky.”

The meteor sighting in Maine is particularly timely for officials from the mineral museum, who last week met with consultants about establishing the Maine Fireball Network. The museum will set up special cameras throughout the state which, when used together, can determine the speed and orbit of a fireball and assist in the recovery of meteorite fragments, Barrett said. She said the network will be the first major network in New England.

“While we wish we were already operational, I’m just glad this didn’t happen last week as it would have been one heck of a distraction,” Barrett said. “We are very excited.”

If you saw the meteor Tuesday morning and want to share informationj, Barrett can be contacted at [email protected] or 824-3036. She said the museum will offer a reward if the meteorite landed in Maine and fragments are recovered.

Here’s the post from the Portland Police Department:

“You never know what you are going to see on duty. Sgt. Farris was looking for speeder’s while parked in front of the central fire station and was able to observe some visitors ‘from away’…. far away. The meteor (or alien spaceship) was caught on camera at approximately 0050 hours. Let’s hope the visitors are friendly. They could just be some of Stephen King’s friends on there way to visit him. Whom ever they are I’m sure we could win them over with a whoopie pie.

P.S.

The voice on the video stating, “oh my God”! is from Ofc. (Graham) Hults. Apparently he was amazed. ‪#‎meteor‬ ‪#‎starwars‬ ‪#‎underthedome‬”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.