Astronomers Saw This Spectacular Fireball Coming Before It Lit Up the Great Lakes

It's rare to catch one and even more rare to see it coming.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
2 min read
fireball asteroid 2022 WJ1

Dereck Bowen caught this time lapse photo of asteroid 2022 WJ1 lighting up the Ontario sky.

SpaceWeatherGallery.com/Dereck Bowen

For just the sixth time in history, astronomers managed to spot a small asteroid shortly before it smacked into our planet in dramatic fashion.

On Saturday, Astronomer David Rankin spotted a 2.3-foot-long (0.7 meter) asteroid in observations from the Mount Lemmon sky survey in Arizona. That's not very big as far as asteroids go, but this one was on a collision course with Earth. Although it wasn't large enough to pose a substantial risk, it was big enough to put on quite a show as it tore through the atmosphere. 

Word went out immediately in the middle of the night through astronomy circles that impact was just hours away. 

While it's only the sixth asteroid we saw coming, it wasn't the first to be spotted before impact this year. This gives some indication of how much the astronomy's collective detection capability is improving in recent years -- five of the six have been spotted since 2014. What was different about this incoming asteroid, which is officially cataloged as 2022 WJ1, compared with the other handful that were spotted before their fiery demise is that it burned up over the largest city in Canada. 

Over 100 witnesses reported seeing a bright fireball over the region around Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes at 3:26 a.m. local time (12:26 a.m. PT). It was even caught on camera buzzing behind the iconic CN Tower in Toronto. 

Astronomers from Western University in Ontario advise people along portions of the Lake Ontario shoreline to "check their yards and driveways for new black rocks, which could be meteorites."

A number of researchers are already on the job scouring the shore for potential space chunk fragments.