The powerful meteor that lit up the skies above southern Australia this week was bright enough to be classified as a “fireball,” NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Objects Studies has confirmed.
A “fireball” is NASA’s term for an exceptionally bright meteor that is visible over a wide area.
This fireball hurtled through Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the waters of the Great Australian Bight late Tuesday night.
It was visible to onlookers in parts of the Australian states of Victoria and South Australia, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Many shared images of the fiery event online, which they captured through security cameras and car dashboard cameras.
Joshua Kennedy, a resident of Adelaide’s suburbs, told 7 NEWS Australia that he spotted the fireball while driving home from work.
“Amazing flash of light, this big orange fireball coming down...” Kennedy said. “Just absolutely spectacular.”
A camera pointed toward the Royal Adelaide Hospital’s helipad captured spectacular footage of the fireball’s trail as it zoomed toward the Earth and exploded, sending out a bright flash of light.
Meteors, colloquially known as shooting stars, are the visible paths of asteroid or comet fragments that have entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Atmospheric friction causes them to slow down, heat up and burst apart as they speed toward the ground.
NASA scientist Steve Chesley told ABC Radio Adelaide he believes the object that exploded over the Great Australian Bight originated in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter tens of millions of years ago. The meteor was likely the size of a small car, he said. Chesley suggested it was pretty small by NASA’s standards and traveling slower than most other similar meteors.
Stargazers typically don’t get to see meteors because most enter the atmosphere during the day, Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist at South Australia’s Flinders University, told ABC Radio Adelaide.
“[But] several times a year there will be an event that is seen by a lot of people that is quite visible and quite spectacular,” Gorman said.
See more videos of Tuesday’s fireball below.