Stargazing ends in fiery display

10/25/2012

What began like any other outdoor stargazing lesson by Bolinas-Stinson middle school teacher Don Jolley last Wednesday ended in a surprising fiery display. Twenty minutes into the naked-eye astronomy lesson, Mr. Jolley, along with a group of eighth-graders gathered on the school’s athletic field with eyes fixed on the night sky, looked up to see a streak of blue, yellow, red and white. Then, he recounted, “the ground lit up.” “I have never, in my 55 years, seen anything as bright as this,” Mr. Jolley said. A couple minutes after the star appeared on the horizon, students were asked to keep quiet as a deep rumble crawled across the sky. Thinking on their feet, Mr. Jolley and his students used simple arithmetic to measure the lapse in time between the sighting and the sonic boom. The meteor, they calculated, was about 22 miles away—a distance greater than most shooting stars, Mr. Jolley noted. Eighth grade twins Govi and Melea Emunah were awestruck as the star began disintegrating in the atmosphere, giving off resplendent hues. “It was really cool because it flew right overhead behind us,” Gavi said. And that’s why “it literally looked like a car was driving by,” Melea added. “It just happened to be right there at the right time.” Mr. Jolley agreed. “But of course,” he said, “I took credit for having our star-gaze timed on it.”