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Bright Meteor of 13th December 2014 at 05:41:19 GMT ...

... and the expanding plume from an on-orbit propellant dump.


At 05:41:19 GMT on 13th December 2014 a bright Geminid meteor was captured by multiple cameras of the NEMETODE network. Nothing too unusual about that except for the fact that on one of the cameras, another unusual object was simultaneously captured, specifically the expanding plume from the on-orbit propellant dump (liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen) from the Centaur booster that had just injected NROL-35 / USA 259 into a Molniya orbit. Thanks to the very talented group over at SeeSat L we knew in advance that there was a chance we could image it - but it was sheer luck that it would be creeping across the field of view when one of the brightest meteors of the night decided to drop in. The plume is the small diffuse blob just above and to the right of the meteor trail as imaged by the Ravensmoor NE (William Stewart) camera. The same meteor was detected by Ravensmoor South East, Leeds (Alex Pratt) and Chelmsford (Nick James) and from this were we able to pin down the orbit of the meteoroid very precisely ... an almost perfect match for what is considered a Geminid. And if you'd like to explore the atmospheric trajectory and ground track of this magnitude -2.8 Geminid in Google Earth, click here.

More details of the plume, together with higher resolution images showing its evolution are posted on the BAA Forum and in the Observers Forum section of the J. Br. Astron. Assoc. 125 1 (January 2015). Cees Bassa's detailed analysis is available here as is the video centred on the payload, an image sequence centred on the background stars and an image sequence centred on the payload. Many thanks to Cees for putting these together.

Clicking on the image of the meteor itself will download / play a .wmv file of the event itself. Details of the date, time and location are shown in the text at the bottom of each video clip. In addition, we've also included images of the derived ground track and orbit.

All images and videos are available for individual personal use.

The copyright resides with the authors and their written permission must be obtained in advance of any public and / or commercial use.