- It sounded, as a perplexed police spokeswoman
later admitted, like something straight from the pages of The X-Files.
Soon after 6am yesterday, Ron Arscott, a Berowra newsagent, was delivering
papers along The Gully Road when the windscreen of his car was suddenly
filled with a white light ... an impossibly bright, extraterrestrial light.
- "This thing was flaming, falling
fast, perpendicular to the horizon," he said. "I tell you, I
got the fright of my life. For one moment, I thought, "I have been
- Spooky. But Mr Arscott, a sensible man
accustomed to seeing shooting stars ("and this wasn't one of them"),
was not alone.
- From as far north as the Sunshine Coast,
as far south as the Royal National Park, early risers telephoned police
stations, emergency services and radio switchboards with similar stories.
- Various people saw various things: "a
black ball with a fiery tail"; a UFO "a quarter of the moon's
size"; "a piece of space junk"; a distress flare; and, possibly
even a light plane.
- Its destination was variously reported
as the F3 motorway, the Hawkesbury River, "somewhere north of Killcare",
- For almost three hours, the main target
area, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, was searched on land by police and
emergency services and from air by Polair and NRMA CareFlight choppers.
- Nothing. No wreckage. No flares. Certainly
no alien life-forms, though the police spokeswoman retained an open mind.
- "If Mulder and Scully [of The X-Files]
do walk in, we'll know why."
- The down-to-earth explanation was provided
by Jonathan Nally, of Sky & Space Magazine. "It was a fireball.
A bloody big meteor basically."
- How big?
- "Oh, perhaps the size of a football,
though it probably fragmented before hitting the ground.
- "I'm not suggesting that people
are twits, but these things are very deceptive. They appear much bigger
and much closer than they are."
- As the meteor approaches Earth at 30
kilometres a second, it appears to burn as the density of the atmosphere
increases about 80 kilometres up. In fact, the outer shell is heated by
friction and the surrounding air is ionised.
- "What you see is brightly glowing
air - not flames shooting from the back of the thing," Mr Nally said.
- At 40 kilometres, the meteor has slowed
- "If it hasn't burned off completely,
it enters a period of "dark flight' - a great term, Steven Spielberg
stuff - where it follows a trajectory to ground."
- Because of speed and angle of descent,
this could be more than 200 kilometres from the observer.
- Meteorites - as meteors become when they
reach Earth - offer valuable information about the origins of life.
- "My word," Mr Nally said. "To
find a pristine one, newly arrived, would be ... ooh, wonderful."
- This week, Mr Nally will try to pinpoint
"the 6.13 from outer space" by checking with witnesses and amateur
astronomers, many of whom have cameras pre-set to take pictures every few
- He is not optimistic.
- "Ultimately, it depends on information
available and type of terrain identified," he said.
- "I fear that as dawn broke, many
cameras will have switched off automatically. Pressed, I could only say
it came down somewhere midway between Sydney and Brisbane." In 1989,
an intensive search for a meteorite that landed in the Tamworth area was
unsuccessful despite a $2 million reward offer and help from opal miners.
- Lumps of rock falling from the skies.
Bugs in the water. Is this some apocalyptic warning?
- Not in the meteorites, says Mr Nally.
- Sure, an asteroid 1.6 kilometres wide
is predicted to pass within 42,000 kilometres of Earth on October 27, 2028.
- But football-size lumps?
- "One or two a month would be visible
from any given location," Mr Nally said. "People don't see them
because it's too light, too cloudy, or just the wrong time.
- "There's a surprising number of
people up and about at 6am."