Canada’s Own “Big Meteor” – of 1966

It could be said that the coincidence of the century happened on 15 February 2013, when  on the same day that earth was approached by a sizable asteroid (2012 DA14) an amazing meteorite streaked through the sky over the Ural Mountains, exploding with enough force that over 1,000 people were injured by glass and other debris from building that were knocked about by the blast.

On September 17, 1966 a similar event – a major meteorite – streaked over Southern Ontario and likely ended up splashing down in Lake Huron, some dozen miles off of Kincardine. My family and I were  witnesses to it, recorded as “The Bolide of September 17, 1966” in the Journal of the  Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. While not cited by name, the reference on the second page of the journal article, “One key observation from about eight miles south of Kincardine, on Lake Huron…” is a note about my father’s report of our family’s experience of the event.

We were at our cottage that Saturday evening; I was 6, my sister was 3, and my parents had some friends over for a barbecue. About 12 minutes before 9 PM the sky suddenly lit up all around us. I was actually in the cottage when the flash occurred, but my father was outside. I rushed out and did see the vapour trail high overhead. My overwhelming memory of the light from the bolide was that it was strongly green.

Being just a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, some of the adults immediately thought we were in the middle of World War III. My father, though, knew just what he had seen, and he wrote up an account in a letter to the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa.

As a child I often dreamt of setting out in search of fragments of the meteorite. I would examine rocks along the Lake Huron shore, hoping that one might look like a meteorite. Alas, I never did find it! However, it’s not impossible that it could be found one day. The likely location is well-known, and the waters off of Kincardine aren’t too deep – but the search would be tedious. Any remains of the space rock would likely be foot-ball-sized or smaller, possibly scattered over a square km or more of lake floor.

The observation of the 1966 event was considerably enriched by a photograph taken from Guelph, Ontario, as well as the verbal reports provided by observers such as my father. Astronomers calculated that the meteor likely first became visible over south-western Ontario north of the Lake Erie shoreline south of Brantford, and then moved north-west at about 17 km per second; it was likely luminous for at least 10 seconds.

In a review of meteor observations over Canada, Hodgson (1994) related that it’s likely that the 1966 Southern Ontario Bolide had its origin in the asteroid belt, because of its velocity.

References

Halliday, I. 1966. The Bolide of September 17, 1966. Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. 60 (Dec.): 257. Available on-line at: http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1966JRASC..60..257H

Hodgson, J. H. 1994. The Heavens Above and the Earth Beneath: A History of the Dominion Observatories Part 2: 1946-1970. Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 1945 (Accessed as a Google eBook 16 Feb 2013)

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