Fireball Outshines Moon: Brightest Meteor In Years Lights Up Southern U.S. Sky [VIDEO]

By Josh Lieberman on September 5, 2013 12:55 PM EDT

fireball moon
A fireball outshines the moon in this image from one of NASA's All-sky Fireball Network cameras (the fireball is the higher object here). (Photo: YouTube Screenshot)

A fireball that streaked across the night sky last week was so bright that it outshone the moon, a somewhat rare celestial event. The appearance of the fireball -- defined as a meteor which is brighter than Venus -- prompted some sky observers in the Washington D.C. area to call into local news stations to report the mysterious light. The fireball appeared in the early morning hours of August 28.

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Bill Cooke, head of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, said that the fireball, which was two feet in diameter and weighed 100 pounds, entered the atmosphere above the Georgia-Tennessee border.

"Recorded by all six NASA cameras in the Southeast, this fireball was one of the brightest observed by the network in 5 years of operations," said Cooke. "From Chickamauga, Georgia, the meteor was 20 times brighter than the Full Moon; shadows were cast on the ground as far south as Cartersville."

The fireball flew northeast at 56,000 mph, breaking apart over Ocoee, Tenn., when it was 33 miles high. Once the fireball was 21 miles high and had largely broken apart, NASA's cameras lost track of the meteor chunks.

"Sensors on the ground recorded sound waves ('sonic booms') from this event, and there are indications on Doppler weather radar of a rain of small meteoritic particles falling to the ground east of Cleveland, Tennessee," said Cooke.

Earth's atmosphere is constantly being hit by grains, dust and pieces of asteroids. A hundred tons of the stuff hits Earth's atmosphere on a daily basis. Most of the material burns up in Earth's atmosphere, but sometimes meteors will strike Earth. Meteors that hit the Earth's surface are known as meteorites.

The fireball was capture on camera (video below) by NASA's All-sky Fireball Network, a system of 12 cameras spread across the Southeast, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.

READ MORE:

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