Entry of a Natural Satellite?

Dave Mullenix (djmullen@facstaff.wisc.edu)
Tue, 4 Jun 1996 06:28:47 -0500

I was re-reading Fred Schaaf's "Wonders of the Sky" (Dover, 1983)
when I came across this account of the entry (not REentry) of a 
"natural satellite" in the chapter on "Meteors".  (Page 93)

   For twentieth-century observers, there have been several
mighty fireballs visible over entire states or countries, but
perhaps the most impressive display of all was the great
procession of meteors observed along a course thousands of 
miles long on the evening of February 9, 1913.  If the sky had
not been overcast in New York and New Jersey, several million
people might have witnessed the spectacle, but, as it was,
observations were mostly from parts of Canada.  The procession
consisted of many groups of meteors traveling one after the other
with a slow and majestic motion across the sky.  One of the 
meteors was as bright as Venus and the total number seemed to
have been several hundred.  First seen in Saskatchewan, the 
meteors eventually passed Bermuda and were last sighted from
some ships at sea.  During this journey, the meteors brightened
but only lowered in altitude from about 35 to 30 miles.  When
over Ontario the groups were separated by distances of 5 to 10
miles and the full procession extended for about 100 miles,
taking an incredible three full minutes to pass by observers
at any given location.

   A convincing explanation for this awesome show was offered
by John A. O'Keefe in 1961 ("Sky and Telescope", January, pp.
4-8).  O'Keefe argued that these meteors, which he called the
Cyrillids because February 9 is St. Cyril's day, were the
fragments of one larger body which had been orbiting the earth
for quite a while as a temporary and very close second moon!
As the object's orbit decayed, the large mass heated and broke
into the bunches of dozens of smaller meteors, and may have
made one last full and very low orbit on fire before burning
up completely or reaching the surface in some desolate area.