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Essex Field Club
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Geology Site Account


Fireball meteor of 1890, BRENTWOOD, Brentwood District, Historical site only

 
 

The 'Fireball meteor' of 1890

The vast majority of meteorites that fall to Earth are not found. Although there is mostly an even distribution of falls around the world most will inevitably fall into the sea or in rural areas. Even in populated areas small meteorites may fall in parks and gardens and not be seen. However, larger stones sometimes will provide a spectacular fire ball as they burn up in the atmosphere. In Essex there have been several reports of lights in the sky which were almost certainly meteors, the most spectacular of these occurring in the evening of 14th December 1890.

An article in the Essex Naturalist (Cole 1890) published shortly after the event reported that the meteor was seen as far away as London, Kent and Suffolk and gives eyewitness accounts from twelve towns in Essex. Most of them describe seeing a spectacular fireball which lit up the landscape for miles around and accompanied by the sound of thunder. A correspondent from Chelmsford said “Last Sunday night at 9.45 I had occasion to go to my greenhouse when suddenly the whole place was lit up as if the electric light was turned on.....I saw a large meteor, which presently broke up into falling stars of the greatest brilliancy. Directly afterwards there was a rumbling noise in the earth and a reverberation like thunder in the sky". Similarly, another correspondent, from Maldon, described it as "a ball of fire moving in a south-easterly direction" and "when not many degrees above the horizon it exploded with a considerable noise, scattering different coloured pieces of fire in every direction", and after it had burst there was "in the sky a long rolling sound like thunder".

Some reports gave amusing accounts of where the meteor “fell”. One correspondent from London said “I had the privilege of not only seeing it but of having it fall within ten yards of where I was standing” and two servants at Wickford reported to their employer that “the moon had fallen”!

Astronomers have estimated that the meteor broke up at an altitude of 13 kilometres (8 miles) midway between Brentwood and Billericay. It is possible that some fragments reached the ground and may still lie undiscovered in the countryside of south Essex.

 

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Reference: Cole 1890.

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