A small piece of an asteroid or a comet, known as a meteoroid, skimmed Earth, with astronomers filming it in stunning footage. Space enthusiasts were stunned to see the small space rock skim the top of Earth’s atmosphere – something which only happens a “handful of times” a year, according to the European Space Agency (THAT).
On this occasion, cameras at the Global Meteor Network spotted the meteoroid, which came as low as 91 kilometres above the surface, before heading back on its cosmic voyage.
Global Meteor Network founder Denis Vida told CNET: “This is only the fifth documented Earth-grazer of this size.
“There are probably more because not all observations are published, but they are significantly more uncommon than ordinary meteors.”
Mr Vida told the ESA: “The network is basically a decentralised scientific instrument, made up of amateur astronomers and citizen scientists around the planet each with their own camera systems.
“We make all data such as meteoroid trajectories and orbits available to the public and scientific community, with the goal of observing rare meteor shower outbursts and increasing the number of observed meteorite falls and helping to understand delivery mechanisms of meteorites to Earth”.
Some scientists believe these ‘Earth-grazers’ could be responsible for transporting life on Earth to other planets.
A recent study from Harvard University scientists suggested a comet or asteroid which passed through the atmosphere of Earth may have picked up some microbes from our planet, before transporting them to another celestial body, such as Venus.
Amir Siraj and Avi Loeb of Harvard said that when a 2017 meteor passed through the atmosphere above Australia, it could have picked up about 10,000 microbial colonies.
The research said: “The total number of [potentially life-bearing] objects captured by exoplanetary systems over the lifetime of the solar system is 10^7 to 10^9, with the total number of objects with the possibility of living microbes on them at the time of capture estimated to be 10 to 1,000.”
According to the duo, these passing space rocks could account for the presence of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, which was recently discovered.
The study said: “This potentially viable mechanism for transferring life between the two planets implies that if Venusian life exists, its origin may be fundamentally indistinguishable from that of terrestrial life, and a second genesis may be impossible to prove.”
However, other scientists believe it is important not to get carried away by the discovery of phosphine – which, by current scientific understanding, is formed through biological processes – in the atmosphere of Venus.
Paul Byrne, associate professor of planetary science at North Carolina State University, wrote in The Conversation: “First, it’s critical to point out that this detection does not mean that astronomers have found alien life in the clouds of Venus. Far from it, in fact.
“Although the discovery team identified phosphine at Venus with two different telescopes, helping to confirm the initial detection, phosphine gas can result from several processes that are unrelated to life, such as lightning, meteor impacts or even volcanic activity.”
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World news – GB – Meteor SKIMS Earth’s atmosphere before passing back into space – video