Meteoroid Caught on Camera Bouncing off Earth’s Atmosphere


A meteoroid skims the earth's atmosphere on Sept. 22, 2020. European Space Agency

A rare celestial event was caught on camera last week when a meteoroid “bounced” off Earth’s atmosphere and veered back into space.

The “Earthgrazer” was filmed early Sept. 22 over Northern Germany and the Netherlands, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported. It reached as low as 91 kilometers (approximately 56.4 miles), which is below the average satellite. At this point, most space rocks enter the atmosphere and turn into meteors, which we see as shooting stars. They usually disintegrate before they reach the ground, though sometimes pieces land as meteorites.

“This lucky visitor, however, didn’t get low enough to completely burn up and managed to escape again, only grazing the edges of our planet’s protective gassy shield,” the ESA explained.

Meteoroids are bits of comet or asteroid that become detached from their parent bodies. While meteors streak across the sky thousands of times a year, Earthgrazing meteoroids only nick our atmosphere a few times annually. To bounce off the atmosphere, they need to approach it at a shallow angle and briefly enter it before shooting off again, Universe Today explained. The motion is similar to a rock skipping off a lake.

The rare event was caught on camera by the Global Meteor Network (GMN), which seeks to assemble a network of video cameras to observe meteors.

“The network is basically a decentralised scientific instrument, made up of amateur astronomers and citizen scientists around the planet each with their own camera systems,” GMN founder and Western University in Ontario postdoc Denis Vida told the ESA. “We make all data such as meteoroid trajectories and orbits available to the public and scientific community, with the goal of observing rare meteor shower outbursts and increasing the number of observed meteorite falls and helping to understand delivery mechanisms of meteorites to Earth.”

The Earthgrazing meteoroid wasn’t just a visual event, however. It also made some noise, according to the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

“The #infrasound stations of @KNMI also detected low-frequency inaudible sound from this event all over the Netherlands,” institute geophysicist Jelle Assink tweeted. “It took the sound wave 5 minutes to reach the Earth surface.”

While tens of thousands of meteorites have been found on Earth, only around 40 have been traced back to specific asteroids, Universe Today explained. Vida managed to trace the Earthgrazer back to a Jupiter-family orbit, but could not find its asteroid of origin.

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