By diligently tracking dash cam images of a particularly spectacular fireball seen over central Europe in February 2020, a team of scientists identified the possible source of the space rock.
The fireball, which appeared on February 28 at 10:30 a.m. local time, was recorded by a handful of cameras spread across Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Austria and Hungary. And the images appeared to show a space rock breaking into 17 smaller pieces during an airborne explosion event, when an asteroid survives the harsh passage through Earth’s atmosphere but explodes before hitting the surface of the planets.
Local residents found three pieces near the Slovenian town of Novo Mesto, with a total weight of 1.6 pounds. (720 grams). (The largest fragment seen in the images, however, potentially 2 pounds or 10 kilograms on its own, the researchers say, is not among them.)
Related: How to Photograph Meteorites and Meteor Showers
(Image credit: Denis Vida et al.)
To better understand the event, a team of scientists decided to put the images together to trace the path of the space rock to Earth. Usually that would be accomplished by tracing the path of a fireball through the stars, but this meteor fell during the day.
So the scientists recruited local residents to photograph the same landmarks that appear in the videos. By combining the fireball images, sky images, and images from a known light source filmed by one of the same types of cameras used in the fireball, the researchers were able to reconstruct a path for the space rock.
The path suggests that the meteor may have come from a near-Earth asteroid, although scientists aren’t sure.
Although the scientists were able to improvise ways to use the observations they had for the fireball, they would prefer that future meteorites in the area had the courtesy of arriving at night, as central Europe is teeming with night cameras.
“The path of the fireball is found in a volume of the world’s sky among the most densely observed by specialized cameras operating at night,” Denis Vida, a planetary scientist at Western University in Toronto, Canada, said in a statement issued. by the Europlanet Society, at whose annual conference it presented the research on Tuesday (September 21). “His path would have been trapped for at least 20 if it had happened a few hours earlier.”
Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@ or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.