Earlier this week, a bright meteor caused a lot of commotion as it pierced through Earth’s atmosphere, streaking across the Australian sky.
The fireball penetrated the atmosphere on August 28 at about 7:40 p.m. local time (7:40 a.m. EDT, 11:40 GMT) and tumbled through the sky over Perth, Australia’s capital and largest city, reports Space.
The event profoundly rattled the community and was witnessed by a large number of people, who immediately phoned the Department of Fire and Emergency Services to report what they saw.
After a blazing descent through Australia’s dark sky, the bolide exploded over Perth in a dazzling “ball of light” of epic proportions, creating sonic booms that caused a lot of confusion, shaking houses and prompting people to run out of their homes.
According to ABC, many locals initially thought the bolide was a stroke of lightning. Others feared the loud boom had been caused by a crashing plane; some even suggested the falling meteor could have been a UFO, either landing or crashing down near Perth.
The meteor was caught on camera by several Perth residents, who either spotted it trailing down the night sky while in traffic and filmed the fireball with their cells phones or recorded its fiery plunge toward Earth with their surveillance cameras, notes The Express.
— prmorthons (@PrMorthons_PhD) August 29, 2018
Once it was all over, reports of the incident flooded social media, as a large number of people took to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share their experience.
“Just saw an amazing meteor/fireball in the sky looking west from Wattle Grove! Anyone else see it?” LookLeft Photography wrote on Twitter.
Another report came from the Mount Lawley area in northern Perth, as Paul Langstaff took to Twitter to say he saw “an asteroid, meteor, shooting star” streaking across the sky.
— Daniel Fischer (@cosmos4u) August 29, 2018
In an interview with ABC Radio Perth, York resident Robyn Garratt said that the sonic boom produced by the meteor shook her entire house.
“We heard the boom, we saw the light, we just thought it was lightning to start with, but the boom that came after it was definitely not thunder,” she told reporters.
As Space points out, York is located some 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the Australian capital and seems to have been affected a lot more than Perth.
“In York, people felt a lot more than that,” Garratt added. “They all went running outside, thinking the sky was falling, basically.”
Kate Clare went through a similar experience, which she recounted on social media.
“My son saw a big ball of light fall overhead then a minute later there was a huge bang that shook our house,” she wrote on the Facebook page of the York Community Resource Centre, which posted a short clip of the meteor settling the sky ablaze.
Footage of the bolide eventually made its way to the Perth Observatory, along with “dozens of calls from frantic people” who witnessed the fireball breach our atmosphere.
After looking at the evidence, a spokesperson from the observatory was able to tell Space that the meteor measured around 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) in diameter.
The abundance of video data will prove very useful in finding out more about the blazing space rock, said Prof. Phil Bland, the director of the Desert Fireball Network — a network of cameras set up in Australia and designed to track meteors entering the atmosphere and recover meteorites.
“It looks like we’ve seen it on multiple cameras which means that we’ll be able to triangulate exactly how it came in through the atmosphere, what its position was, what its speed was, what its size was [and] work out where it came from in the solar system, and if any of it landed,” Bland said in a statement.
Given the meteor’s size, scientists are hoping that at least some chunks of it may have survived the explosion, and have already begun the search for any remnants the fireball could have left behind.
Tracking them down and actually recovering bits of the meteor would enable researchers to pinpoint the space rock’s origin and figure out whether the asteroid from which it splinted lies in the outer solar system or in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, explains BGR.
But finding fallen pieces of meteors, also known as meteorites, is no easy task, considering how rarely they survive entering our atmosphere. According to Bland, only 2 to 3 percent of the meteors we spot in the sky actually make it to the ground.
And, when they do, their charred remains are sometimes difficult to tell apart from terrestrial rocks, despite looking “odd,” notes the professor.
“It will look strange. It will have a black crust on it, and it’ll be kind of slightly rounded in a way that most terrestrial rocks aren’t,” Bland said. “Also, they’re usually a little bit heavier than average rocks.”
The search efforts for any potential meteoroids are currently concentrated on the town of York.