Goodness gracious great balls of fire!

A bright orange meteor, akin to a blazing ball of fire, was seen racing across the sky over Stornoway early last Monday morning.

The fireball was spotted by Iain Mackinnon of Kennedy Terrace at about 6am and also by another resident who was walking their dog in the vicinity of Marybank and reported the phenomenon to the coastguard.

Alas, no photographs of the event have come to hand (at the time of writing), although the Hebrides weather automatic webcam (http://www.hebwx.co.uk/), based in Point did record a bright moving object at about 06:09 hours, but it is not certain if this was the meteor.

Meteors are rocky or metallic objects travelling through space at high velocity.

They are much smaller than asteroids, and typically range in size from a few millimetres to 1 metre in diameter.

Many are fragments of previous comets or asteroids, although some are debris resulting from collisions between asteroids and a larger body (such as the Moon or Mars).

It is estimated that about 15,000 tonnes of meteor debris and space dust enters the Earth’s atmosphere every year.

Occasionally, much larger objects have collided with the Earth, such an asteroid which exploded in the sky just above the Siberian town of Tunguska, Russia, on 30th June 1908.

This particular bolide was probably not much wider than 100 metres, but the resulting explosion was 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, and devastated an area of 2,000km, destroying 80 million trees in the process.

More recently, a large superbolide meteor descended at a speed of 34,000mph over the Ural Mountains of Russia, on 15th February 2013. It exploded with a shock wave and a flash of light (as bright as the Sun) that caused much damage and injured thousands of people who were standing near windows watching it.

Many videos of the event can be seen on the internet and YouTube.

Thankfully, events such as described above are very rare, although it is noted that several large meteors have been sighted over recent weeks around the world, in places far-afield as Canada, Florida and the southern hemisphere.

Perhaps they all owe their origin to the remains of some previous asteroid or object, long-since broken-up in the solar system many moons ago?