Tiny fragments from the asteroid belt sizzled to Earth near London International Airport this week, Western University sky cameras show.
Likely smaller than a baby’s fingernail, they’re the remnants of a meteoroid that briefly shot across the sky Sunday night — a scene captured by an array of sky-watching cameras, including at Western’s observatory in Elginfield and at Cronyn Memorial Observatory.
Regardless of its size, it’s rare to see a meteoroid enter this deep into the atmosphere before burning up; and rarer still that meteorites of any size would drop so near an urban area, said Prof. Peter Brown, a meteor expert from Western’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration.
“Watching a meteoroid zip through the atmosphere is, at the same time, both dramatic and poetic,” Brown said. “They never fail to amaze us, to teach us a little bit more about this vast universe and our place in it.”
The fireball, which originated from the asteroid belt beyond Mars, had a mass of about one kilogram and was the size of a grapefruit when it entered the atmosphere at about 18 kilometres-per-second, near 8 p.m. on Sunday night. It remained luminous for four seconds, broke into two fragments near 40 km altitude and then stopped emitting light at about 33 kilometres above Earth’s surface.
The remains of the fireball are likely no more than tiny, gram-sized bits, now likely lying in farm fields somewhere near the airport and in Fanshawe Lake, Brown said. “What fell to Earth might be grape-sized at the very biggest, more likely pea-sized or mere dust. We’re not apt to find anything and we’re not asking people to search, as we would for larger meteorites,” he said.
“Because the meteoroid passed right overhead of the Elginfield Observatory, we had a great view. It was our best test to date of our newly installed all-sky fireball camera which, at 50-million-pixels, is among the highest-resolution all-sky fireball cameras in operation in the world,” he said. “The great thing about doing this sort of science is that all of Southwestern Ontario is our laboratory.”
NOTE: Downloadable images are available below.
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