A fireball meteor shot across the sky over the Atlantic ocean earlier this month, according to NASA, which describes the fiery object as the largest since the Chelyabinsk meteor over Russia in 2013.
The space agency’s Near Earth Object program identified the unseen Feb. 6 fireball, which reached peak brightness at 8:55 a.m. ET.
NASA Astronomer Ron Baalke explained that the large fireball – the largest since the Chelyabinsk incident, was detected 19.2 miles over the South Atlantic.
In February 2013 a meteor blazed across Russia’s southern Urals that scientists said was the largest recorded strike in more than a century. More than 1,600 people were injured by the shock wave that followed the meteor’s mid-air explosion and property damage was widespread in the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk.
Astronomer Phil Plait described the Feb. 6 object as a solid piece of space debris, or meteoroid, which likely exploded. In a Slate blog post Plait estimates that it may have been 16.4 to 30 feet across if made of rock like its Chelyabinsk predecessor, which was 62 feet across.
Earlier this year NASA opened its new Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), which formalizes the agency’s existing program for detecting and tracking near-Earth Objects (NEOs). The office is located within NASA’s Planetary Science Division, which is in the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
NASA also has an ambitious plan to capture and redirect an asteroid.