A massive fireball exploded over the Bering sea last December, unleashing energy that is 10 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. NASA’s instruments aboard the Terra spacecraft caught images of the fireball’s remnants as they trailed through the atmosphere.

Fireball Explosion

Last Dec. 18, NASA detected a massive fireball explosion about 16 miles (26 kilometers) over the Bering Sea. The explosion generated roughly 173 kilotons of energy during the explosion, which is over 10 times the energy that was unleashed by the Hiroshima atomic bomb during World War II.

It is now considered as the most powerful meteor that has been observed since 2013, and it was rather fortunate that the location in which it exploded was a remote area, so it did not pose a threat to anyone.

NASA Images

"Fireball" is the term used to describe meteors that are exceptionally bright, and can be seen over a wide area. According to NASA, fireball events are actually quite common, and that they keep such events in a database. Fortunately for this particularly powerful one, two instruments aboard NASA’s Terra spacecraft captured images of the remnants of the fireball mere minutes after it exploded.

Specifically, the five of the nine cameras of the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument captured a sequence of images showing the shadow of the meteor’s trail and orange-tinted clouds as a result of the fireball super-heating the air that it passed through.

The other instrument, the Moderate Resolution Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MODIS), captured the true-color still image of the remnants of the meteor’s passage, and it can be seen as a shadow against the white clouds.

Terra Spacecraft

The Terra Spacecraft was launched in 1999 as the flagship mission of the Earth Observing System, and it is being managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. It has five instruments that together monitor the Earth’s atmosphere, land, ocean, ice, snow, and energy budget.

With the information provided by the instruments of the Terra spacecraft, scientists are able to see how the Earth works and how it is changing, how humanity is impacting the planet, and important data on hazards such as volcanoes and fires.

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