The sky fell in the US state of Georgia on Thursday, or at least a small piece of it did. Viewers on the ground looked up and saw a bright fireball descending. Some of them dialed up NASA to report the unusual occurrence, so the space agency checked into the reports and traced the fireball to a falling meteor.
NASA caught the light show on video and in a series of still images that only hint at the brightness that was visible with the naked eye for some lucky sky watchers. NASA says the meteor was a chunk of an asteroid and weighed at least 150 pounds (68 kilograms) while being more than 16 inches (41 centimeters) in diameter. That’s a lot of material to burn up in the atmosphere.
NASA’s five seconds of footage shows the fireball near the bottom of the screen, gaining in brightness before disappearing off camera. The video comes from cameras from the agency’s All-sky Fireball Network project, which aims to observe “meteors brighter than the planet Venus.”
The falling object came in at a steep angle and zipped along at 29,000 miles per hour (46,670 kilometers per hour).
NASA followed it to 17 miles (27 kilometers) above Locust Grove, a southeastern suburb of Atlanta.
The fireball may have left behind a calling card. “It is possible that fragments of this object survived to reach the ground as meteorites,” NASA notes.
Catching a spectacular fireball like the one over Georgia is largely a matter of luck or patience. You increase your chances by sitting back and watching during a known active meteor shower like the recent Geminid meteor shower. You can also check in with the American Meteor Society to see where people around the world are noticing fireballs and to read up on the meteor activity forecast for the coming week.