AIKEN --- About a week ago, an Aiken teen witnessed a spectacular event -- an unidentified object blazing toward Earth.
Thinking he might be seeing the space shuttle Endeavor's fuel tank burning up in the atmosphere, 17-year-old Josh Marbert snapped a few pictures as he stood in the yard of his home.
"It was visible for a good while -- 10 minutes or so -- and finally disappeared off into the distance," the high school senior said in an e-mail. "I was able to take pictures and sent them to a friend ... who is the director of the planetarium at the University of South Carolina Aiken."
Dr. Gary Senn told Josh that the object in the pictures was most likely a bright meteor, typically called a bolide. Bolides occur anytime a large meteor hits Earth's atmosphere.
"Most bolides last only a few seconds," he said. "Some do last for up to five or six minutes, but 10 minutes is very rare."
In his response to Josh, Dr. Senn said: "It was exciting you were able to see this. It is even more exciting that you were able to capture it with a camera."
The bolide sighting is not the first in the Aiken area.
Dr. Senn said that about two or three years ago, almost to the day, there was a sighting.
"I remember it because it was a few days before a meteor shower," he said. "I am fairly sure that it was before the annual Leonid meteor shower, which occurs around Nov. 17."
Josh's bolide appeared in the sky about 5:45 p.m. Nov. 15.
Dr. Senn explained that meteor showers typically do not produce the brightest bolides because such showers are usually caused by comet dust, which is very fine.
"Perhaps there are a few large comet fragments hanging around the orbit of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, the source of the Leonid shower," he speculated.
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