A fireball that thousands of people witnessed exploding across the sky in the UK was likely a meteor entering the atmosphere, and spreading debris on to the Earth’s surface as it broke up.
On Sunday evening (28 February), the meteor fireball, moving at incredible speed, was forced to slow considerable as it encountered resistance from the atmosphere. This created heat, which appeared as a blazing fireball.
This video, courtesy of UKMON, shows the moment of impact:
The organisation additionally received almost 800 witness reports and videos from doorbell and dashboard cameras from across the UK and even in the Netherlands and Belgium. Many people also reported hearing either a sonic boom or a rumbling noise.
UKMON reports that meteor was moving relatively slow, compared to other fireballs and meteors, and was likely made up of softer cemetery or asteroidal material.
There is definite fragmentation in the second half of the flight, it points out, and there is a good chance some material survived the entry and might be found on the ground.
The UK Fireball Alliance calculated the meteorite strewn field, with these images:
Dr Ashley King of the Natural History Museum and UKFAll, comments: “The video recordings tell us its speed was about 30 000 miles per hour which is too fast for it to be human-made ‘space junk’, so it’s not an old rocket or satellite.
“The videos also allowed us to reconstruct its original orbit around the sun. In this case, the orbit was like an asteroid’s.
“This particular piece of asteroid spent most of its orbit between Mars and Jupiter, though sometimes got closer to the Sun than Earth is.”
Dr Sarah McMullan of UKFAll estimates that about 50 tonnes of extra-terrestrial material enters Earth’s atmosphere each year.
“Most are sand-sized particles known as cosmic dust, including the most meteors in the Perseid meteor shower that takes place every August,” she says.
Main picture: The image of the fireball exploding is courtesy of UKMON.