A skydiver may have captured the first film ever of a meteorite plunging down at terminal velocity, also known as its “dark flight” stage.
The footage was captured in 2012 by a helmet cam worn by Anders Helstrup as he and other members of the Oslo Parachute Club jumped from a small plane that took off from an airport in Hedmark, Norway. He emerged from the encounter unscathed and actually, didn’t even see it when it happened. He tells NRK, the Norwegian government-owned media: “I got the feeling that there was something, but I didn’t register what was happening.”
When he brought the video to the Natural History Museum in Oslo, experts seemed convinced the footage was of a meteorite. “It can’t be anything else. The shape is typical of meteorites -- a fresh fracture surface on one side, while the other side is rounded,” geologist Hans Amundsen says.
When a meteroid interacts with Earth’s atmosphere, it causes a streak of light in the sky. (These are shooting stars.) When the light disappears, Amundsen explains, the debris that eventually makes it to Earth’s surface enters the stage called "dark flight.” That’s when the meteorite is no longer traveling at an angle, but falls straight down.
“It has never happened before that a meteorite has been filmed during dark flight; this is the first time in world history,” Amundsen tells NRK. He thinks the meteorite was part of a larger rock that probably exploded about a dozen miles above Helstrup, and that it was falling at nearly 200 miles an hour.
Here’s the short version of the video:
The video and Amundsen’s explanations haven't completely convinced io9, citing how it’s not uncommon for rocks or pebbles to get caught up in a parachute canopy when it's getting wrapped up. And the object’s speed doesn't seem quite right.
In an email to the Huffington Post, Helstrup reaffirmed the video's authenticity: "I can guarantee you the story and footage is real, recorded just as it happened. I am aware that April 1 was 3 days ago, but this has nothing to do with that."
"The story is just as amazing to me as it is to most others that are trying to get their head around it," he continues. "I have tried to convince myself [of] every other possible explanation, but I can't seem to make myself believe it's something [other] than a significantly large object."
Having the rock in hand would certainly help. But despite triangulations and analyses, Helstrup and his recruits still haven’t found it. There’s now a website dedicated to the search. “Now nerds and creative people from all over the world can have a go,” Amundsen says.
Image: Anders Helstrup / Dark Flight, montage, Hans Erik Foss Amundsen