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Comet Chunk Slams Into Earth’s Atmosphere

May 25, 2011

Residents of Atlanta, Ga., were treated to a rare event on Friday night: a 2-meter wide chunk of cometary material entered the atmosphere right above their heads. The result? Nothing short of spectacular.

The fireball exploded and disintegrated like the dying embers of a firework, once-icy debris lighting up the sky, outshining the moon.

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The fascinating thing about this piece of comet is that it had a rather special orbit. “Before it hit Earth, this object was in an orbit much like that of Halley’s Comet,” Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office told SpaceWeather.com.

It’s worth noting that it wasn’t part of Halley’s Comet, it just originates from a group of objects in the “Halley Family.”

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“This icy, fragile object was about 2 meters wide, hit the atmosphere at a speed of 38.5 km/s (86,000 mph), and completely disintegrated about 60 km above ground,” Cook said.

The whole event was captured using NASA’s fireball camera at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, Ga., but in addition to the bright cascading debris, observers noted bright blue-green flashes as the fragment tumbled through the atmosphere.

Observing events such as these are a reminder that the space our planet plows through during its usually peaceful 365 day orbit around the sun is anything but empty. Let’s hope the objects that our planet slams into for the foreseeable future remain about this size. If anything significantly bigger hits us, and we have little warning, we may have no other choice but to… run away.

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