Great Fireball of '66

The author's artistic rendition of the "Great Fireball of '66".
The author's artistic rendition of the "Great Fireball of '66".

At around 7:15pm, on Sunday, April 24, 1966 – fifty-seven years ago this past April - I was 8 years old, and I just happened to be passing by the open front door to our house, in Falmouth, Massachusetts, facing, due, West...If I had been doing anything else - other, than that – I could not be writing this today…

This is my digital painting/impression of the “Fireball”, as I observed it from my front door-step, super-imposed onto a photo of the Mullen-Hall School, in Falmouth, as seen from my perspective. I remember that the sky was still light, and absolutely cloudless (about 30 minutes after sunset) when I noticed a bright ball of light about the size and brightness of the full moon approaching from my left in my field of view (toward the South).

I remember being, "frozen", in place, as I watched this bight, "thing” – I first thought it was maybe a burning aircraft, moving parallel with the rooftop of the Mullen-Hall School, which was about 300 ft. away, directly, across the street from my house or, due, East. I ran out the front door and into the street – and immediately, stubbed, my big toe! I never did make it over to the library, from the excruciating pain!

I remember that my brother, Barry, who was with my cousin, “Binky”, on their way home, during a 'pit-stop', from a function at their high school just a little earlier in the evening, yelling over to me, saying, “Hey we just saw a ‘flying saucer’, over the (Falmouth Public) Library”, which was across the street, and to the South.

They told me, the 'flying saucer', had been moving North, toward the Lawrence High School, across from Shiverick’s pond, to my Northwest. They mentioned something about, 'fire trucks', that had responded to phone calls about the object, by those at the event at the high school, to the Falmouth Fire and Police Departments - which made this event seem, to me, all the more ominous. Apparently, many people attending the function at the high school had called into the Falmouth Enterprise, regarding this sighting...

This object, witnessed from my house, was very, very, bright, and seemed to have created, what I thought of, as, “sparks”, coming from the trailing end of the 'head' of the object, which, was a moderate, 'teardrop-shape'. It had a long, uneven, white, 'train' of smoke trailing behind it, much like a thick, airliner con-trail, but far denser, which crossed the entire length of the sky, from the object’s ‘head’, now, in the north, all the way across the sky into the South. At times, the object’s, trailing, edge, flashed, greenish in color - the leading edge, yellow-green and orange - while, the main body remained a brilliant white. It seemed to "pulse", slowly, several times, brightening, with each pulse, the pulses, lasting just fractions of a second.

During these moments of brightening, the “sparks”, separated from the main body and trailed it by at least two, or three, diameters of the main object', ‘the head’. I remember being struck by how these sparks, or, fragments, were detaching from the object, and that they became visible, only, after, they were some distance behind it; approximately, three, head diameters. The fragments, themselves, alternated green and orange, and left short trails of their own along the main path of the smoke train, which, now extended from the southern sky, far, into the North.

I can distinctly remember that I could not account for what it was that I was looking at; and, I was especially baffled by those fragments trailing behind the object. I couldn't predict what was going to happen to the object, next, but I had had no, similar, prior experience to compare it with. I was quite at a loss for an explanation for what I had just seen... ...Later, that night, I heard my mother speaking on the phone, telling, someone, that there had been an announcement about the object, during a public service announcement, by a local TV station, about, half-way through, “The Andy Griffith Show” (we had been watching). I don’t know what channel it was, or what the station's call letters, were, at that time.

The object seemed to move perfectly parallel to the school’s rooftop, which was just a few degrees below the object, as it moved in a uniform South, to North, trajectory. I was struck by the object’s, apparent, slow, speed – about the speed of any plane that I might have seen, from a distance of just a few miles, at any other time. It seemed to take a long time to move across my field of view, which was clear, all the way, from the extreme South to the extreme North, except for the low roof-top of the school. The school's, roof-top, spanned about two-thirds the width of my field of view, but was, itself, only about five degrees in height, and perfectly flat, so there was no obstruction to my view of the object. I don’t remember hearing any sound from the object, at all. I do remember thinking that the thing, "was going to explode" - at any second - after, it had swelled up once again.

I remained silent, the entire time; not wanting to call out, or call any attention to the thing - but, just, watch, and wait to see what was going to happen next - if, anything. I don’t remember anyone else being around at the time, anyway, after, my brother and cousin had left to go back into town…

Again, it seems as if the event was endless, looking back on it, and it struck me how the object had gone through so many stages of flashing, or, pulsing, during its flight. I estimate the duration of the flight of the object across the sky at about 45 seconds. Finally - it seemed to be breaking apart, completely, and, then, fading out - just before disappearing below the tree line toward the NNW. The next day, all the kids in my class were talking about it! Ultimately, according to the Harvard College Observatory, which published an article, soon afterward, it turned out to have been an iron asteroid fragment, approximately, 15-ft across, on a very, shallow, trajectory through Earth’s atmosphere, estimated to have begun, somewhere, over New Jersey, and exiting back out of the atmosphere, somewhere, over, Ontario, Canada. This had been determined from reports by several, scattered, eyewitnesses to the event, who had notified the Observatory. I had back-tracked the asteroid's trajectory, using some computer simulations, for April of that year, and it turns out to have been part of a meteoroidal phenomenon, known, as the “April Fireballs“. The 'fireballs', are large-ish fragments of cometary material, which cross Earth’s orbit, every, April.

Written By Dale Alan Bryant

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