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MISR Images Fireball Over Bering Sea  - animated gif
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MISR Images Fireball Over Bering Sea
03/22/2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball" - the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area - exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 kilotons of energy, or more than 10 times the energy of the atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima during World War II.

The Multi-Angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured images of the remnants of the large meteor. This image sequence shows views from five of MISR’s nine cameras, taken at 23:55 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), a few minutes after the event. The shadow of the meteor's trail through Earth's atmosphere, cast on the cloud tops and elongated by the low sun angle, is to the northwest. The orange-tinted cloud that the fireball left behind by super-heating the air it passed through can be seen below and to the right of the GIF's center.

The Dec. 18 fireball was the most powerful meteor to be observed since 2013; however, given its altitude and the remote area over which it occurred, the object posed no threat to anyone on the ground. The angular information from MISR's nine cameras can be combined to calculate the height of the fireball in the atmosphere, which was 17.5 miles (28.1 kilometers) above sea level – more than three times the cruising altitude of a commercial plane and well into the stratosphere. Fireball events are actually fairly common and are recorded in the NASA Center for Near Earth Object Studies database.

The MISR data, available through the NASA Langley Research Center, were captured during Terra orbit 101073. MISR was built and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The instrument flies aboard the Terra satellite, which is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The MISR data were obtained from the NASA Langley Research Center Atmospheric Science Data Center in Hampton, Virginia. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. More information about MISR is available at https://misr.jpl.nasa.gov.

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Credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL-Caltech, MISR Team

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