Rare ‘earthgrazer’ meteor flew 186 miles across Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee before burning up, NASA says
- An ‘earthgrazer’ meteor flew across the night sky earlier this week, NASA said
- The fireball became visible on November 9 and was first spotted over Georgia, then Alabama and finally Tennessee
- It hit a speed of 38,500mph while over Georgia, traveling 186 miles in total
- These meteors enter the planet’s atmosphere at a very shallow trajectory and will often ‘skim’ across the upper atmosphere, bounce and head back to space
- In 2014, an earthgrazer entered over South Carolina and traveled 290 miles
Residents of the southeastern U.S. witnessed a galactic light show this week when a ‘earthgrazer’ meteor flew across the night sky, NASA said.
The luminescent fireball became visible on November 9 at 6:39 p.m., NASA Meteor Watch said in a Facebook post, adding it was captured by three NASA meteor cameras.
It first appeared over Taylorsville, Georgia at an altitude of 55 miles, just below the Kármán line – the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space – moving at a speed of 38,500 mph.
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It next appeared 44 miles above above Owens Cross Roads, southeast of Huntsville, Alabama.
An ‘earthgrazer’ meteor flew across the night sky earlier this week, NASA said
The fireball became visible on November 9 and was first spotted over Georgia, then Alabama and finally Tennessee
It was last spotted was 34 miles above Lutts, Tennessee, before disintegrating
It hit a speed of 38,500mph while over Georgia, eventually traveling 186 miles in total
These meteors enter the planet’s atmosphere at a very shallow trajectory and will often ‘skim’ across the upper atmosphere, bounce and head back to space
The last place it was spotted was 34 miles above Lutts, Tennessee, putting its total journey at a whopping 186 miles.
It was able to complete the three-state journey as it entered at a ‘very shallow angle’ of only five degrees from the horizontal.
The space agency was unable to determine the size of the fireball as its light was dimmed by overcast skies.
‘Earthgrazer’ meteors enter the planet’s atmosphere at a very shallow trajectory.
Often times, they will ‘skim’ across the upper atmosphere for a long distance, ‘bounce off’ the atmosphere and head back into space.
‘A rare meteor for those fortunate enough to see it,’ NASA Meteor Watch added.
This class of meteors ‘can travel a considerable distance before getting low enough to completely burn up,’ NASA has said previously.
In May 2014, a basketball-sized meteoroid entered the atmosphere 63 miles above Columbia, South Carolina.
This earthgrazer was flying at speeds of 78,000 mph, before it burned up 52 miles above Tennessee, traveling a total distance of 290 miles, ‘quite rare for a meteor,’ NASA wrote at the time.
When meteoroids – small pieces of asteroids or comets – enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they become meteors or fireballs.
If it makes it to Earth, it becomes a meteorite, which can become valuable to collectors.
In August, NASA released a new map that showed where fireball meteors have hit Earth’s atmosphere, dating back to 1988.
Explained: The difference between an asteroid, meteorite and other space rocks
An asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.
A comet is a rock covered in ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.
A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.
This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small they are vapourised in the atmosphere.
If any of this meteoroid makes it to Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.
For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.