A radiant fireball exploded over the remote Bering Sea in Dec. 2018, though it wasn’t until some three months later that scientists, scouring satellite images, discovered the dramatic event. NASA’s Terra satellite — an Earth-observing satellite the size of a small school bus — also unwittingly documented the fiery explosion, and the space agency released photos of the meteor’s violent passage through Earth’s atmosphere on Friday.
Fireballs — which are bright meteors breaking apart in the atmosphere — are common events, though this December explosion was quite potent, as the most powerful known fireball since 2013.
“The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 kilotons of energy, or more than 10 times the energy of the atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima during World War II,” NASA said on Friday.
NASA’s GIF shows both the meteor’s trail and an orange-colored cloud that the exploded space rock left behind.
A meteor needn’t be too big to make a vibrant scene. The object was just a few meters across, noted astrophysicist Caleb Scharf. But its steep angle and high velocity helped this speeding space rock pack a punch.
It’s difficult for most meteors to survive a descent through Earth’s atmosphere, as they’re baked and scorched by friction while plummeting through the sky.