A meteor that flashed across the east-central Minnesota horizon for a few seconds and lit up the sky before sunrise Wednesday was captured on the squad car dashcam of an awe-struck sheriff's deputy.
The unusually bright meteor starred in a four-second video captured by Pine County Deputy Aaron Borchardt in the early moments of his shift.
"My squad lit up in the inside" as the chunk of astronomical debris whizzed by, said Borchardt, who was driving toward the eastern sky on the back roads to Denham. "I thought it was something sparking above my squad car."
Borchardt has been patrolling largely rural Pine County for the past nine years and never saw anything like that before.
"Some nights I'd see the northern lights and stuff," he said, "or sometimes a shooting star in the distance, but nothing like that so low."
Thaddeus LaCoursiere, a planetarium educator for the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota, identified the plummeting object as a bolide, an extremely bright meteor that often explodes upon engaging Earth's atmosphere.
"This is a type of meteor that is … brighter than the planet Venus, for some comparison, and can be seen over a wide area," LaCoursiere said.
He said it was "really amazing" that the bolide was reported to be seen all the way from its entry in the atmosphere in northern Minnesota near Duluth down to the southwestern Minnesota city of Jackson.
"Bolides are rare events," said LaCoursiere, citing NASA's Bolide Detection website. "There are only 68 events that lasted longer than one second recorded by their instruments over the last three years" covering North, South and Central America.
"So don't go out expecting to see a bolide event" like the one the deputy spotted, he said.
While it is unlikely that any of the bolide survived long enough to hit the ground to become a meteorite, LaCoursiere said, "anyone along the path of the bolide should keep an eye out for pieces of celestial debris."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482