Fireball above skies of Gloucestershire may have been meteoroid entering Earth’s atmosphere

Fireball above skies of Gloucestershire may have been meteoroid entering Earth’s atmosphere.

AT 9.54pm on Sunday, February 28, a meteoroid is believed to have entered Earth’s atmosphere, creating a spectacular yellow-green fireball in the skies over Gloucestershire.

The fireball was visible from as far away as the Netherlands, and was travelling so fast it sent a sonic boom across southern England.

The fireball’s speed – some 30,000 miles per hour – is too fast for it to have been human-made ‘space junk’ such as an old rocket or satellite, and models show its orbit to be that of an asteroid that spent most its life between Mars and Jupiter, according to Imperial Earth Science & Engineering.

It has been reported by over 750 observers – one of the most-reported fireballs ever – and was imaged by the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFAll), a collaborative data-sharing initiative involving researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow, as well as citizen scientists.

UKFAll has more than 30 cameras in the UK continually monitoring the sky for meteors and fireballs, at least six of which picked up the fireball as it entered the atmosphere (Cardiff, Manchester, Honiton, Lincoln, Cambridge and Welwyn Garden City).

The meteoroid appeared to fragment several times as it entered the atmosphere, and was visible for about six seconds.

“Though the meteor mostly vaporised during these initial seconds, we think that fragments are likely to have reached the ground,” says Dr Luke Daly of the University of Glasgow and UKFAll: “If pieces landed, they’re likely to have been in or just north of Cheltenham, out towards Stow-on-the-Wold, probably on farmland.”

Sarah McMullan, a PhD student in Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering and member of UKFAll, estimates that about 50 tonnes of extra-terrestrial material enters Earth’s atmosphere each year.

McMullan said: “Most are sand-sized particles known as cosmic dust, including those in the Perseid meteor shower that takes place every August. But even over a relatively small land area like the UK, about twenty meteorites probably land each year.

“Most are barely the size of a sugar cube. However, two or three are bigger, and that’s probably the case with this one. Every few years a much bigger one will arrive.”


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Tara Rippin

Tara Rippin is a reporter for Spain’s largest English-speaking newspaper, Euro Weekly News, and is responsible for the Costa Blanca region.
She has been in journalism for more than 20 years, having worked for local newspapers in the Midlands, UK, before relocating to Spain in 1990.
Since arriving, the mother-of-one has made her home on the Costa Blanca, while spending 18 months at the EWN head office in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol.
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