Small bits of asteroids and comets come to Earth all the time. Some of them pass on. Some of them burn in the atmosphere, creating a bright fireball in the sky. And, every once in a while, one piece comes close and then escapes. These are known as “Earth-Grasers”.
The Global Meteor Network, a network of skywatching cameras, spotted a rare Earth-Gregor meteorite and captured its elegant movement in a dramatic GIF. It is visible through the night sky over northern Germany and the Netherlands before the meteorite “bounced” into space on 22 September.
The European Space Agency in a statement last week highlighted the dazzling footage. “The network is basically a decentralized scientific device, made up of amateur astronomers and citizen scientists around the planet,” Global Meteor Network founder Dennis Vida told ESA.
Meteorite is a term used for a small body that travels in space. If it reaches the Earth’s atmosphere and turns into a “shooting star”, it is a meteorite. If one remaining piece of it survives all the way to the ground, it is a meteorite.
“This is only the fifth documented Earth-grazer of this size,” Vida told CNET in an email. “Probably more because not all of the comments have been published, but they are significantly more unusual than normal meteors.”
Vida estimated the size of a meteorite at about 4 inches (10 cm), although the nature of an earth-eater makes it difficult to calculate an exact mass. Some object must have burned up during their close encounter and it must have returned to space as Vida called “a sacred rock”.
The Global Meteor Network is designed to track space rocks that enter Earth’s atmosphere and to trace the origin of meteorites. This may help researchers detect previously unknown asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth.
The Earth-Grazer’s scene is a lovely side effect of a project that ultimately aims to protect our planet.