A fireball explosion above California led to the International Meteor Organisation (IMO) receiving more than 100 reports from mesmerised Californians as a bright blast lit up the night’s sky on January 30. Initially, the IMO believed the explosion was caused by a piece of space debris from a defunct satellite re-entering the atmosphere.
However, further research proved it was a small space rock travelling at 15.5 kilometres per second, or 55,800 kilometres per hour (34,672 MPH).
A video from the American Meteor Society (AMS) shows the meteoroid falling into Earth, producing a steady stream of small blasts.
It was the several blasts which had experts initially believing the fireball was a piece of space junk, which usually defragment as they fall to Earth.
The AMS said: “Based on the reports and videos we received about this event, we initially thought it was a space debris re-entry (slow event, heavy fragmentation, etc).
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The IMO received more than 100 reports
“After receiving information from William J Cooke, Lead, NASA Meteoroid Environments Office, the speed of the event is now evaluated of 15.5 km/s, which means the fireball was indeed produced by a meteoroid.”
Asteroids and meteors produce a bright explosion of fire when they hit the atmosphere as it is the first time the space rock has ever met resistance.
Air seeps into the pores and cracks of the rock, pushing it apart and causing it to explode.
The IMO said: “Fireballs are meteors that appear brighter than normal.
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Asteroids and meteors produce a bright explosion of fire when they hit the atmosphere
“Due to the velocity at which they strike the Earth’s atmosphere, fragments larger than one millimetre have the capability to produce a bright flash as they streak through the heavens above.
“These bright meteors are what we call fireballs and they often strike fear and awe for those who witness them.”
While this meteor was small, the bright flash reiterates the need for eyes on the skies to watch out for potential asteroid collisions.
While the chances of a major asteroid hitting Earth are small – NASA believes there is a one in 300,000 chance every year that a space rock which could cause regional damage will hit – the devastating prospect is not impossible.
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However, there are some plans on the go which could help Earth against potential asteroid strikes.
NASA is currently studying Asteroid Bennu, where its OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft arrived in 2018.
Part of the reason NASA is sending the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft there is to gather more information about the space rock which is 500 metres in length.
NASA fears that the asteroid, which has the potential to wipe out a country on Earth, could hit our planet within the next 120 years, with the next close flyby in 2135.
The mission will give vital information on how to deflect asteroids from their collision course with Earth, but NASA reiterates that while there is a small chance Earth could be impacted, “over millions of years, of all of the planets, Bennu is most likely to hit Venus.”