CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — A West Virginia veteran and astrophotographer captured a once-in-a-lifetime video of a fireball exploding that has gone viral.
Bill Stewart, known as @Astroseabea on social media, who lives in Ceredo, West Virginia said that he was recording at 2:13 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 2 when he knew he got something special.
“The telltale sign that it was huge, was the fact that the reflection on the rooftop across the street from me, captured the reflection which has greater illumination than the moon,” Stewart told 12 News.
The video that Stewart shared with 12 News shows a fireball shooting across the night sky and then brightening as it explodes into three pieces. The video also captured the sonic boom from the explosion that NASA said was equivalent of 2 tons of TNT, according to Stewart, followed by Stewart’s shocked reaction of “holy crap.” Stewart later learned that his fireball was actually a fragmented piece of a comet, which makes it even more rare.
“I knew that it was bigger than anything I had ever personally seen. And I’ve been watching the sky since I was a young boy,” he said. National outlets report that the fireball was about 75 pounds and was moving roughly 37,000 MPH. It disintegrated about 30 miles above Duffield, Virginia. It was visible from at least nine states.
Since Stewart posted it online, dozens of national and international news outlets have featured the video, including the Weather Channel, Space.com, the Daily Mail UK and MSN. Stewart said he hopes to use the viral video and his platform to bring awareness to astrotherapy—a way to bring veterans together and focus on something outside of themselves.
“Astrophotography can provide a sense of connection to something larger than oneself,” Stewart told 12 News. “Looking up at the vast expanse of the night sky can help veterans feel a sense of awe and wonder, and remind them of the beauty and mystery of the universe.”
An Iraq veteran himself, Stewart does astrotherapy through photography any time he can when there’s a clear sky. On Aug. 2, he was lucky enough to be recording while he was adjusting his time-lapse camera during the convergence of the Perseids and Alpha Capricornids meteor showers.
Stewart pointed out that because West Virginia has less light pollution, it would be the perfect place for an astronomy park like the John Glenn Astronomy Park at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. “With West Virginia Tourism making the push for dark sky certification at nearly every park, it seems we would greatly benefit from an astronomy park,” he said.
Just in the past year, West Virginia has made a push for star-gazing tourism; it held a giveaway in the spring to promote it, and Gov. Justice announced plans to build star-gazing cabins at Coopers Rock State Forest.