Fireballs seem intense when you are standing on Earth, but the perspective from above could not be more different.
The images are shown in a time-lapse with a 1-second interval, and were taken while the Space Station was flying from the southern Atlantic Ocean over to Kazakhstan.
Astronaut Paolo Nespoli was lucky enough to capture a fast fireball falling to Earth over the Atlantic, off the South Africa west coast – look closely in the video below between 00:07 and 00:08 seconds (at upper right in the frame).
According to the ESA, the fireball blasted through the atmosphere over South Africa’s west coast, and the entire video shows a journey from the southern Atlantic Ocean, where that coast is situated, to Kazakhstan, several thousand miles away. The experts can identify the object despite its tiny size because of its position, shape and brightness.
“The object was below the airglow,” Detlef Koschny, who studies near-Earth objects for the ESA, said in the agency’s blog post on the fireball. “One can see the fireball illuminating the clouds from above, so it must have been close to them — and close to the Earth’s limb. It also seems to show a little tail. It’s brighter than all the stars seen in the background; only at the very end of the video before sunrise do we see something of similar brightness — I guess Venus.”
He estimated that the object was about 4 inches long.
“It might be a re-entering piece of space debris,” Koschny said, referring to things like used rocket stages and decommissioned satellites and fragments from those that have broken off. That “space junk” is common in low-Earth orbit and could fall into Earth’s atmosphere and burn up. “But from looking at the entry angle (using the reflection on the clouds as reference) it’s coming in at too steep an angle. … “We call bright meteors (brighter than Venus), a fireball. I guess this would qualify as a fireball.”
The British Journal Editors and Wire Services