Fireball that lit up UK skies likely to be piece of asteroid, say scientists

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A fireball that lit up the skies over the UK on Sunday night is likely to have been a small piece of an asteroid entering the Earth’s atmosphere, scientists have said.

The meteor was spotted shortly before 10pm and sent a sonic boom across southern England, according to scientists from the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFall), which is led by staff at the Natural History Museum.

UKFall said the bright light could be seen from Ireland to the Netherlands, and the meteor is set to break the world record as the most-reported ever – with 758 such reports on International Meteor Organisation’s website so far.

Across the UK, many video doorbell and security cameras captured the astronomical event.

“The video recordings tell us its speed was about 30,000 miles per hour, which is too fast for it to be human-made ‘space junk’, so it’s not an old rocket or satellite,” said UKFall’s Dr Ashley King.

“The videos also allowed us to reconstruct its original orbit around the sun. In this case, the orbit was like an asteroid’s.

“This particular piece of asteroid spent most of its orbit between Mars and Jupiter, though sometimes got closer to the Sun than Earth is.”

UKFall said though the meteor fragmented in the atmosphere it is likely “a few fragments” reached the ground.

“If you do find a meteorite on the ground, ideally photograph it in place, note the location using your phone GPS, don’t touch it with a magnet, and, if you can, avoid touching it with your hands,” said Dr Katherine Joy of the University of Manchester.

Sam Harris, from Leeds, said he was in bed talking to his fiancee when he witnessed the “breathtaking” fireball.

“As I looked out of the window I saw what I thought at first was a huge firework, but it was descending in an ark,” the 28-year-old civil servant said.

“There was a trail of orange and green and it was incredibly bright!

“It was breathtaking… I couldn’t sleep for a few hours afterwards – I had a strange adrenaline kind of buzz!”