A huge meteor was recorded streaking through the early morning skies of Alabama last week and ending in an impressive explosion.
The incident took place at 12.19am local time on Friday, August 17, with six NASA cameras capturing the moment the fireball streaked through the sky. It has, somewhat understandably, been called the Alabama Fireball.
“Last night, at 12:19 AM Central Daylight Time, numerous eyewitnesses in the South East reported seeing a very bright fireball, which was also detected by all six NASA meteor cameras in the region,” NASA Meteor Watch wrote on Facebook.
“Analysis of the data indicates that the meteor was first seen at an altitude of 58 miles [93 kilometers] above Turkeytown, Alabama (northeast of Gadsden), moving west of north at 53,700 miles [86,400 kilometers] per hour. It fragmented some 18 miles [29 kilometers] above the small town of Grove Oak.”
The asteroid that caused the event is thought to have been about 2 meters (6 feet) across. And rather impressively, the fireball is said to have shined about 40 times as bright as the Moon.
This type of event is known as a fireball, a meteor that suddenly brightens in the night sky as it explodes in the atmosphere. If fragments of this meteor reach the ground as meteorites, then it is usually referred to as a bolide, although NASA notes the terms are used interchangeably.
At the moment NASA said they didn’t know if this fireball had produced any meteorites or not. But it was still an impressive enough event to trigger all the Meteoroid Environment Office's cameras and sensors in the region.
Earth is hit by a large number of space rocks like this every year. Ones this small are particularly hard to spot before they hit, but thankfully their small size means they normally explode before they reach the ground. This can still cause damage, though; the shockwave from the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor explosion in Russia injured hundreds.
Not all asteroids of this side explode completely, though. In early July, scientists reported that they had found fragments from a similarly sized rock. Most impressively, this asteroid had been tracked before it hit the atmosphere – only the second time in history scientists had detected an asteroid, watched it explode, and then collected pieces of it.