Story at a glance

  • A slow-moving meteor fireball was visible in the sky across the United Kingdom on the last day of February.
  • Fireballs are larger meteors falling into the Earth's atmosphere and burning up.
  • Meteorologists in the U.K. tracked the fireball's path using crowdsourced photo and video.

Doorbell and security cameras often capture unexpected happenings just outside your home. For residents across the United Kingdom, that included a fireball shooting through the skies just before 10 p.m. on Sunday. 


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Ashley King, a researcher at the Natural History Museum and part of the UK Fireball Alliance, told the UK Meteor Observation Network (UKMON) that “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.”

 

The fireball moved slower than previous meteors tracked by the UKMON, suggesting it was made of a softer cemetery or asteroidal material that broke apart in the second half of its flight and likely fell to the ground. The UK Fireball Alliance, a project of the Natural History Museum's staff, located the meteorite strewn field in Gloucestershire, England, on and around farm land.  


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“If you do find a meteorite on the ground, ideally photograph it in place, note the location using your phone GPS, don’t touch it with a magnet, and, if you can, avoid touching it with your hands. Pick it up in a clean plastic bag or clean aluminium foil if possible," said Katherine Joy, a researcher at the University of Manchester, in a statement to the UKMON.

But she and other researchers cautioned residents from breaking COVID-19 restrictions to go looking for any freshly-fallen meteorites, noting that with roughly 50 tonnes of extraterrestrial material entering Earth's atmosphere each year, there will likely be plenty more opportunities. 

“Most are sand-sized particles known as cosmic dust, including the most meteors in the Perseid meteor shower that takes place every August. But even over a relatively small land area like the UK, about twenty meteorites probably land each year. Most are barely the size of a sugar cube," said Sarah McMullan, a member of the UKFAll team.


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Published on Mar 01, 2021