A huge fireball lit up the sky over southwestern China Wednesday when a meteoroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burst into flames.
NASA data put the velocity of the fireball at 14.6 kilometers per second, generating impact energy equivalent to 540 tons of TNT as it blazed across the night sky near the border with Myanmar.
The cosmic light show was visible for several seconds, just after 8pm local time on Wednesday, the South China Morning Post reported. Videos posted on Chinese social media captured the extraordinary sight, seen here in this video by Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.
According to the post, the largest fireball event recorded in China took place in 2009, when a meteor blasted into the atmosphere generating the equivalent of 2,300 tons of TNT in impact energy.
NASA defines fireballs as “exceptionally bright meteors that are spectacular enough to to be seen over a very wide area.” A meteor is the phenomenon created when a meteoroid—small fragments of asteroids or comets—enters the earth’s atmosphere.
“Objects causing fireball events can exceed one meter in size,” NASA says, though it adds that these are normally not large enough to survive their corrosive journey through the Earth’s atmosphere.
The visual effect is created as the object enters the atmosphere, when “an impacting object is both slowed and heated by atmospheric friction. In front of it, a bow shock develops where atmospheric gases are compressed and heated.”
According to NASA’s data tables, the last fireball event of a similar size fell in June, when a fireball that generated the equivalent of 520 tons of TNT when it entered the atmosphere at a point off the coast of eastern Russia.