While many in the UK were out looking for Comet NEOWISE on July 21, some Britons were treated to another astronomical display. A meteor travelled through the night’s sky, producing a large boom as it hit Earth’s atmosphere. The mesmeric fireball was described as “almost apocalyptic” by one spectator, as the International Meteor Organisation (IMO) received almost 40 reports from stunned onlookers.
Steve said: “Very bright with green flash part way through its flight.”
Michael added: “Lit up the whole sky. Very compact light leaving a neat and thick trail.”
Will stated: “Never seen one in my life and it was almost apocalyptic … I’m in slight disbelief at what I saw.”
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.
Fireball BOOMS over UK as onlookers search for NEOWISE – ‘Almost apocalyptic’
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.
“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.
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 to gather more information about the space rock.
NASA fears the asteroid, which is 500 metres in length and 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 while there is a very small chance Earth could be impacted, “over millions of years, of all of the planets, Bennu is most likely to hit Venus.”