In the wee hours of May 17, just before 1 a.m., a meteor exploded in the sky over New England.
The gigantic fireball was visible all the way from Pennsylvania to Québec.
Nearly 700 people reported seeing it to the American Meteor Society (AMS).
Though it might look like one big flash, the AMS has received enough video footage to analyze the tapes — they think the meteor might have actually broken into two fragments either before it hit the atmosphere or during its descent.
Though we rarely get such great pictures of them, the Earth is constantly getting bombarded by meteors, like flies on our planetary windshield.
As the Earth plows its way through the solar system, we bump into a lot of stuff. Guessing just how much stuff is hard, but one estimate says nearly 3,000 meteors not only hit the Earth’s atmosphere, but actually make it all the way to the ground.
That might sound like a lot, but most meteorites either land in really remote areas or in the ocean, so we don’t often get to see them. Many meteors are pretty small and usually burn up in the atmosphere, although we do know there are some big ones out there too.
Luckily, NASA has plans to deal with anything too large hurtling to Earth from outer space.
In early 2016, NASA announced the formation of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. This is actually a combination of several pre-existing programs and will identify, track, study, and warn people about any big space rocks out there.
In the event that they see something that does look worrisome, NASA’s got a couple different plans to deflect any potential problems. In fact, NASA is planning a 2020 mission that will hopefully capture part of an asteroid and serve as a proof of concept for one of these plans.
The so-called New England Fireball was not only a spectacular galactic fireworks display, it was also a great reminder that space is all around us and part of our natural world. And that we should probably make sure NASA keeps getting funding so they can warn us if any big space rocks get a little too close.
Watch a dashcam recording of the meteor below:
Thumbnail image from American Meteor Society/YouTube.