Catching a Boomerang … Meteor

Just wow.

Sorry for adding these distracting words down here, taking away from the beauty of the photo above (by Damien Stenson). It would be simply amazing on its own. But the moment that it’s captures, it’s so special that it deserves a deeper explanation!

If you were lucky enough to be in one of a few places on Earth on September 21, 2012, you may have witnessed this event too. It’s a  bright, fragmented meteor burning up as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere over the UK and North America. Thing is, it entered the atmosphere twice.

This so-called “boomerang” meteor event is so rare that it may have never been recorded before in human history. Essentially, an object approached Earth and skimmed through our atmosphere at about 33 miles above Ireland. Some falling debris from that pass burned brightly, as is captured above. Observers said it burned slowly, because it’s shallow dip into the atmosphere meant the chunks were flying almost parallel to the ground, extending their burn.

But it didn’t fall. The object skipped off of our atmosphere like a stone across water, careening off into space. Unfortunately, it was captured by our gravitational pull, becoming a short-lived satellite before eventually re-entering the atmosphere over North America later that day. Jason Kottke saw it, as did many others. 

What an awesomely lucky photo. An event so rare that it may never be captured again in many human lifetimes, caught forever because someone was looking up.

Makes you think … you never know what you might miss if you aren’t looking.

(More at Sky and Telescope)