by Robert Verish
The Bishop Bolide of 1994
This month's installment of "Bob's Findings" is about a fireball event that occurred ten years ago. This was an event that is still talked about, even after all these years, because for those that witnessed this fireball, it will never be forgotten. In addition, this fireball has special meaning to me, because it was this singular event that started my interest in meteorites. It was this event that sparked my meteorite-recovery career, and forever changed my life.
This article will explain why I call this fireball the "Bishop Bolide".
Probably my best description of this fireball was made in one of my first posts to the Meteorite-List - 6 years ago:
It was four years ago yesterday, but the meteorite that "must have landed" in the Eastern Sierran foothills near Bishop has yet to be found. It was 20:15 PST (04:15 12/27/96 GMT) a Monday night the day after Christmas, December 26, 1994. The four of us were in a car traveling north on the 210 Freeway near JPL, Pasadena, CA. My wife was driving and my sister-in-law was sitting beside her. They had the front row seats, but my son was looking to the right (east) and saw it first as just a pin point of light. He saw it grow brighter, and larger, and still larger, and still brighter! Seeing the fireball so early, he had time to wake me before the screams from the front seats reached my ears. I opened my eyes and, with my iris still wide open, stared up into a light the intensity and color of an electric arc torch. All four of us observed the fireball go down behind the San Gabriel Mountains. Within the next second all four of us witnessed a flash of light coming from behind those same mountains, as if it had impacted in the Mojave desert. With my next breath I heard myself speaking the words, "I must find that thing!", which surprised everyone in the car, myself included. "Find what thing?" "What WAS that THING?" Well, it's four years later and I've learned a lot about fireballs and bolides since then. Like, for instance, fireballs are much farther away than they appear. So, there was no impact in the Mojave Desert. It took me until ten days later to realize that the flash was 250 miles away and was the result of the fireball passing over the snow-capped Eastern Sierras and terminating in fragments somewhere southwest of Bishop, California. Actually, the "southwest of Bishop" took me another two months of more than 20 interviews and recording eye-witness accounts. When it became clear to me that what I was tracking down was a bolide that had fragmented upon termination, I started studying more into meteorites. With several eye-witnesses giving evidence to some of these fragments entering a phase of the trajectory known as "dark body flight", I started to realize that the accounts of a double sonic boom had less to do with the bolide "exploding", as described in the media, but more to do with at least two "dark bodies" going sub-sonic! In my efforts to acquire more infomation about meteorites, I found myself more and more getting into conversations with a coworker of my wife at JPL that had a meteorite collection. His name is Ron Baalke. Ron was a patient tutor. He kept suggesting that I join a meteorite discussion group called Meteoritecentral. It was about a year ago that I finally got on the "List". I should have taken Ron's advice sooner. What I've learned about meteors and meteorites this past year is exponentially more than any prior period of time. Although this Bolide*chaser may come to regret never finding where the "Bishop Bolide" has landed, I'll never regret joining the "meteorite-list". Bob Verish
>It was four years ago yesterday, but the meteorite that "must have >landed" in the Eastern Sierran foothills near Bishop has yet to be >found. It was this fireball that help Bob catch meteorite fever, very similar to the way Nininger got hooked. >All four of us observed the fireball go down behind the San Gabriel >Mountains. >When it became clear to me that what I was tracking down was a bolide >that had fragmented upon termination, I started studying more into >meteorites. With several eye-witnesses giving evidence to some of >these fragments entering a phase of the trajectory known as "dark body >flight", I started to realize that the accounts of a double sonic boom >had less to do with the bolide "exploding", as described in the media, >but more to do with at least two "dark bodies" going sub-sonic! I should point out too that Bob has done some considerable follow up work in regards to this bolide. I've sent out inquiries about the fireball over the Internet, and received about 30 eye witness accounts, all which I've forwarded to Bob. The fireball was seen over large portions of California, several hundred miles apart. Bob took the observations, and triangulated the position of a possible fall near Bishop. He made a number of trips to Bishop, and found additional eye witnesses, including people who heard the sonic booms, saw the fireball split into two pieces, and saw the fireball fizzle out overhead - all of the classic signs of the fireball about to land on the Earth. There was no doubt that a meteorite had landed near Bishop. The probable impact area though turned out be in the wilderness, which unfortunately, had a large number of dark rocks scattered about, making the search for the meteorite very difficult. A few weeks after the fireball sighting, a couple of large rainstorms swept through California, which would further obscure any traces of the meteorite. If the meteorite is still there and has survived the elements, it probably has lost its fusion crust by now, and is probably well rusted. >Although this Bolide*chaser may come to regret never finding where the >"Bishop Bolide" has landed, I'll never regret joining the >"meteorite-list". Though the Bishop meteorite was never found, this peaked Bob's interest in meteorites enough that he has found a number of meteorites since then. Ron Baalke
As Ron Baalke mentioned above in his 1998 message, I conducted more that two dozen interviews of eye-witnesses to this fireball event. It was our original intent to publish the data from these interviews, but in April of 1995 a “Fireball Report” was published Dr. Peter Jenniskens in the Dutch Meteor Society journal “Radiant” (Vol.17 no.2). Although our data had more eye-witness accounts local to the Bishop area, at the heart of the matter, there was very little difference in our results. Had I published the results of my interviews, there would have been nothing new contributed to the study of this bolide.
But, if a meteorite from this fall were to be found, then that would be a major contribution! And that is why my disagreement with the “Conclusion” in Jenniskens paper makes an important distinction. In Jenniskens “Conclusion”, he states that:
“Chance of survival of fragments at location few miles E-SE of Bishop [is] minimal.”
Based upon the results of my interviews with several eye-witnesses who observed fragments in “dark-phase-flight”, I am convinced that at least 2 fragments survived. Possibly many fragments survived. This opinion is supported by the numerous reports of a “double sonic-boom”, yet only one fragmentation event has ever been witnessed. Within the body of Jenniskins report, there is no evidence presented that would rule-out the possibility of fragments surviving. But in fact, the contrary seems to be the case. In the section of the report titled “Fragmentation”, one of the eye-witnesses he interviewed (Von Hanford) noted that “a small piece arc down from main body just before passing Las Vegas”. This concurs with two accounts that I recorded in which eye-witnesses observed a smaller fireball detach from the main fireball. Note, this is occurring during the fireball phase while it is passing over the Owens Valley. The smaller fireball is never observed to fragment or explode; only the main fireball. The smaller mass enters directly into “dark-phase-flight” before producing a sonic-boom. This is followed shortly by the sonic-boom of the main mass. This is the evidence for the possibility of at least 2 fragments surviving.
Also within the body of Jenniskens report, it was stated that the “End point was a few miles WEST of Bishop”, yet inexplicably, the “Conclusion” states “of survival of fragments at location few miles E-SE of Bishop”? I can only reconcile this by assuming that the “E-SE” is a typographical error, since our data suggests a location a few miles W-SW of Bishop. This would be in agreement with the results stated in the body of Jenniskens report. Hence, if I were to publish the results of my interview of eye-witnesses, it would only be a confirmation of Jenniskens report and would add very little new information.
But for those more interested in the possibility of recovering meteorites, the “distinctions” discussed above are very important. If, by interviewing eye-witnesses more local to the Bishop area I can add more detail to Jenniskens results of an “End point was a few miles WEST of Bishop”, to be more constrained to a “point somewhere above Buttercup Meadow”, then this may instigate a greater effort at meteorite recovery.
If you want to read the defining document regarding this Bolide, here is the first abstract published:
If you want to read some of the first email messages regarding this Bolide, here is a compilation of -
If you want to read some of the first news articles regarding this Bolide, here is a web page that would be a good place to start:
And here is a newspaper article that I've reprinted since it cannot be found on the Internet:
And if you are wondering why this particular bolide has garnered so much of my attention, here is my post to the Meteorite-List:
To see results from a Google search on the keywords "December 27 1994 Bishop Bolide" , "Click" - - HERE!!
Web Results 1 - 2 of about 25 for December 27 1994 Bishop Bolide. Re: US DOD FIREBALL RELEASE ... Three years ago while I was trying to track down a fireball witnessed in the Mojave Desert on Dec 27 (0425) 1994 (which I now call the Bishop Bolide) I came in ... http://www7.pair.com/arthur/meteor/archive/archive4/April98/msg00176.html - 7k - Cached RECENT SKY ACTIVITY (as reported through 1/5/95) ... ... Re: Bolide/Fireball - central California Date: 27 Dec 1994 ... http://archive.anomalies.net/way-archive-non-sorted/Sky_Activity1.txt
A forthcoming article will describe the recovery of Willcox Playa 004.
My previous articles can be found *HERE*
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