A British amateur astronomer had the experience of a lifetime earlier this month when he captured the dramatic sight of a nearby meteor explosion on video.
As reported by the Bristol Post, 58-year-old Derek Robson, of Loughborough, in Leicestershire puts a motion-activated camera in his backyard each autumn in order to record seasonal meteor showers. Though he’s witnessed many a space rock streaking through the atmosphere using this set-up, none compare to what he documented in the early morning hours of November 10.
At 5:07 am local time, a large fireball appears in the sky in front of the constellation Orion and flashes brilliantly for about a second before vanishing into the darkness.
"Usually I just get planes and birds and things like that – but when I watched the footage back and saw this I was simply stunned,” Robson told the outlet, noting that he was asleep at the time. “I couldn’t believe my eyes and I was jumping in the air for joy – I was so happy that I got it.
The retired analytical chemist estimates that the meteor disintegrated in the air somewhere close to Bristol, which is just over 200 kilometers (130 miles) away. After analyzing his footage, he also concluded that the burning rock was 275 times brighter than Sirius – the brightest star in Earth’s sky.
“I’m constantly on the look-out as I’m into meteor astronomy. I've captured smaller meteorites but never anything as big and as bright as this,” Robson added. “It's amazing to think they could have been orbiting the Sun for millions of years.”
Though the term is used loosely, a meteor is not actually a celestial body in its own right, but rather the name given to chunks of asteroids or other small interplanetary objects that have been pulled into Earth’s atmosphere. Any tangible bits of material that survive this intense journey and land on the Earth’s surface are referred to as meteorites.
According to NASA, about 97,000 pounds (44,000 kilograms) of meteoritic material falls on Earth each day and several meteors per hour can usually be seen on any given night.
But during meteor showers, cyclical events when Earth’s orbit intersects with clusters of rocky and/or icy debris, we might see as many as 300 per hour.
If you’re interested in observing the celestial spectacle of a meteor shower, the next event is the Geminids (showers are named for the constellation they appear out of the sky near), peaking on December 13.
[H/T: Bristol Post]