An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) accidentally captures a video of a fireball as it buzzed into the Earth's atmosphere.
Paolo Nespoli, an astronaut from the European Space Agency (ESA) took a time-lapse video on Nov. 5, while the ISS coasted over the Atlantic Ocean approaching Kazakhstan, about 250 miles above Earth and was able to record the fireball.
Fireball Or Space Debris?
The fireball may come from any of the meteor showers expected to become visible on Earth this November. It could be an early fireball from the Taurid meteor shower, viewed last Nov. 10 or from the Leonid meteor shower, expected to peak over the weekend. It could also be a late one from the still active Orionid meteor shower that reached its peak in October.
"Indeed it looks like a bright meteor, or fireball," said near-Earth object (NEO) of ESA's Space Situational Awareness program co-manager Detlef Koschny in a statement. "One can see the fireball illuminating the clouds from above, so it must have been close to them — and close to the Earth's limb."
However, Koschny said that it can also be an orbiting space junk re-entering Earth.
Meteors are usually debris of comets and asteroids that may enter the Earth's atmosphere at high speeds. When they vaporize, they look like shooting stars, but they can also splash as they approach the atmosphere and cause a fireball.
Space debris, on the other hand, can be junks from inactive satellites or leftover parts of launch vehicles that continue to orbit above the Earth's atmosphere. These bits of junks travel at high-speeds and can be potentially threatening.
Calculating the speed of the object, Rüdiger Jehn, also a co-manager of ESA's NEO program, said the fireball travels at a speed twice the speed of an average meteor, enabling it to hit the Earth's atmosphere at 89,500 mph — still within the visible range of roughly 24,600 to 161,000 mph.
Jehn further explained that for the purposes of naming the object, what Nespoli recorded qualifies as a fireball.
Aside from the fireball, Nespoli was able to record yellow-orange light emissions from the sodium atoms present about 50 to 65 miles above the Earth's surface.
Fireballs Lighting Up The Sky
Last year, residents of Florida witnessed a massive fireball whizzing across the sky. Many of the witnesses who saw the meteorological event initially thought that it was an extraterrestrial ship.
About the size of a baseball, the fireball was also visible from Alabama and Georgia.
Watch the time-lapse video below: