Astronauts on the Space Station Caught a Fireball Entering Earth's Atmosphere and It's Awesome

Image: European Space Agency
Image: European Space Agency

Seeing cool phenomena from Earth is rad. Seeing them from space is a million times radder.


This axiom has been proven time and time again thanks to astronauts on the International Space Station who routinely capture jaw-dropping images of our fair planet. Through their lenses, we mere mortals have been able to witness the power of the northern lights, hurricanes, lightning storms an countless atmospheric happenings from 254 miles above Earth’s surface. Now, we have ourselves a fireball.

Footage released on Thursday by the European Space Agency shows a fast-moving meteoroid entering the atmosphere. Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli shot the time lapse on Nov. 5 as the International Space Station passed over the south Atlantic on its way towards Kazakhstan.

The meteoroid alone would be a pretty amazing site, but when it attained fireball status it became a truly a special moment. Fireball is the term used for any meteoroid that burns brighter than Venus in the night sky as it enters the atmosphere. The spark is visible at the eight second mark in the video above, but here it is slowed down and zoomed in a bit:

Scientists at ESA estimate that it entered the atmosphere at about 40 meters/second, double the speed meteoroids usually come screaming down to Earth. They ruled out space debris because of the entry angle. Here’s what Detlef Koschny of ESA’s amazingly named Space Situational Awareness Program had to say:

It might be a re-entering piece of space debris, but from looking at the entry angle (using the reflection on the clouds as reference) it’s coming in at too steep an angle.


This has been your regularly reminder from Earther that Earth is amazing and scientists are really smart.

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.


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If I got a job on the ISS, staring out the windows would be a bigger work distraction than commenting on GM is for me now.