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No. 86: Mar-Apr 1993

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Meteoric "dust bunnies"

All around the world, watching through the long nights, is a band of dedicated meteor observers -- mainly amateur astroomers. Collectively, they record many meteor showers and fireballs; all quite respectable astronomical objects. But sometimes fuzzy, rapidly moving luminosities appear, as in the following paragraph written by J.S. Gallagher:

"Diffuse luminous objects moving at angular velocities similar to those of meteors were observed during over 200 hours of meteor watching in 1991. They fell in three broad categories: arcs, patches, and 'meteors' similar in appearance to comet comas. Though I at first dismissed the possibility of their being related to meteors, I reconsidered this relation after eliminating other possible causes such as reflections from aircraft lights and tricks of vision. Their meteor-like behavior suggested that perhaps these events might be caused by clouds of exceedingly small meteoroids, visible only because of their numbers and compact grouping. Because such a formation would be unlikely to be maintained long in space, it appeared necessary that the particles involved must have maintained some weak physical contact until just prior to becoming visible. Perhaps some type of 'cosmic dust bunny,' disrupted by air resistance, might be the cause of these events."

These moving patches of light also resemble the "auroral meteors" cataloged under GLA3 in Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights. Physically, they might be related to the small, icy comets postulated by L.A. Frank to account for the transient "holes" seen in satellite ultraviolet images of the earth. (See SF#60 and #72 for more.)

(Gallagher, John S.; "Diffuse Luminous Objects Having Angular Velocities Similar to Meteors," Strolling Astronomer, 36:115, 1992. Cr. P. Huyghe)

References. The above phenomenon is cataloged in AYO8 under "Nebulous Meteors" in our book: The Sun and Solar System Debris. Ordering information for this book and Lightning, Auroras (mentioned above) may be found here.

From Science Frontiers #86, MAR-APR 1993. 1993-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987