The greenish-yellow fireball that ripped through Earth’s atmosphere on Sunday night, delighting observers from the UK to the Netherlands, is believed to have partially survived the journey in the form of meteorites, probably landing right next to it. north of Cheltenham.
Fireballs are particularly bright meteors – space matter that burns upon entering Earth’s atmosphere. What is left of it when it reaches the Earth’s surface is known as a meteorite. They are of particular interest to scientists as they can offer crucial clues about the history of the solar system.
Richard Kacerek, founder of the UK Meteorite Network, a group of amateur astronomers who have been using cameras to record sightings across the UK since 2012, said computer models suggested that the likely location of the meteorite impact was just right. north of the city of Gloucestershire.
Approximately 50 tons of extraterrestrial material enters Earth’s atmosphere each year, mainly in the form of sand-sized particles called space dust. In the UK, an estimated 20 meteorites land each year, barely the size of sugar cubes. The last recovered meteorite fall was in 1991 in the town of Glatton near Peterborough.
Brighter fireballs have been sighted in the past, Kacerek said. “What makes this particular fireball really special is that we think something has really survived.”
Ashley King of the Natural History Museum in London said in a statement: “Video recordings tell us that her speed was about 30,000 mph, which is too fast for it to be human-made ‘space junk’, so which is 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 that of an asteroid. This particular asteroid spent most of its orbit between Mars and Jupiter, although at times it came closer to the sun than Earth. “
Basing their predictions on images from multiple specialized cameras of fireballs, observers concluded that smaller golf ball-sized pieces of dark-colored fragmented rocks would be found, Kacerek said, adding that it was not yet clear to which comet. the meteor belonged. .
“We have already received some emails from people in the area, saying they found something interesting,” he added, noting that those sightings have yet to be verified by scientists at the Natural History Museum.
If people find chunks of the meteorite, the scientists said, they should first photograph it instead and note the location using their phone’s GPS, but avoid touching it directly. Meteorites are usually rich in iron, but using a magnet could damage the sample – Kacerek suggested that it be collected with a clean plastic bag.
The UK public should remember that the lockdown is still in place and that people should not break restrictions on searching for meteorites, he warned.
One of the biggest attractions of examining meteorites is a theory called panspermia – that the chemistry of life exists in space.
Astronomical research has found the building blocks of life in the atmospheres of distant planets and interstellar clouds, and even more complicated compounds in meteorites. Since life on Earth began at least 3.8 billion years ago and the leap from organic chemistry to self-replicating organisms is so great, some astronomers propose that life could have been delivered by a passing comet.
“It’s certainly a theory, but I think it’s a very likely theory,” Kacerek said. “We don’t know much about it [the meteor from Sunday] yet. But certainly … installing a meteor camera, recording the meteor, and then picking it up will help answer those questions. “
On Sunday night, all three Kacerek cameras did not detect the fireball. “But when I saw the photos, I said, ‘Holy …’, I knew what it meant,” he said. “Because it meant … I have to get up at 6 o’clock and talk to the media all day.”