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Fireball meteor turns night to near-daylight over Siberia

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Tuesday, December 6, 2016, 7:22 PM - A bright fireball meteor flashed over the Siberian Republic of Khakassia Tuesday, lighting up the evening darkness as if the Sun were climbing back into the sky.

On Tuesday night, at just after 6:35 p.m. local time (around 6:35 a.m. EST), a bright object streaked through the sky over the mountainous southern region of West Siberia and apparently exploded.

Many in the region witnessed the event, which was identified as a fireball meteor, and it was even captured by dashboard cameras, as shown in the videos below.

Two videos posted to YouTube by RT.com capture at least part of Tuesday night's spectacular meteor event.

"At first, I couldn’t understand what’s going on," Olga Sagalakova, a local resident who witnessed the fireball, told the Russian Times. "There was a sudden luminescence. It wasn’t as light as day, but still quite bright."

"We looked at the mountain near us," she explained, "and there was huge meteor flying above it. It had a tail. Frankly, I was scared. I thought that it was a bomb."

According to the Russian Times, the meteor was seen for just a few seconds as it flashed overhead. It was followed by a loud bang roughly 30 seconds later, which was apparently loud enough to set off car alarms.

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Given the length of time it took for this bang to reach the ground, the meteoroid likely exploded at least 10 kilometres up.

As the primer above shows, a meteor is the flash of light in the sky produced when a meteoroid enters Earth's atmosphere. This happens because the meteoroid is travelling so quickly - between 64,000 km/h and 256,000 km/h - that the air molecules in its path are compressed to the point where they are hot enough to glow. The colour of the glow is the result of the composition of the minerals that are vapourized from the meteoroid's surface due to the intense heat.

Exceptionally bright meteors, which are caused by larger and faster meteoroids, tend to be called fireballs. If a fireball ends with the meteoroid exploding, as its internal structure is overcome by the intense pressure difference between its leading and trailing ends, it is usually called a bolide (or a "superbolide" if it is big enough).

The colour of this particular meteor, which showed up as dull orange in the videos of the event, is likely due to the light being filtered by the thin layer of cloud that hung over the region at the time.

Large meteoroids, such as this one, are very likely to have at least a part of them survive the trip through the atmosphere, so this event may have produced a meteorite fall.

According to the Russian news agency TASS, Professor Viktor Grokhovsky of the Urals Federal University, who investigated the Chelyabinsk meteorite fall in February 2013, said that meteorites from this event could still be found, if they can properly trace the trajectory of the object.

"It is essential to draw an accurate trajectory to see where the debris may have hit the surface," Professor Grokhovsky told TASS. "This will take about 24 hours."

More on this as the story develops.

Sources: RT | TASS

Teaser image courtesy: RT/YouTube

Related Video: Police cruiser captures strange fireball across Florida sky

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