Citizens in southwestern China who were out and about on Wednesday evening were treated to a spectacular celestial light show thanks to a massive meteor that lit up the sky. Many in the region were celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival and attempting to catch a glimpse of the full moon when the meteor stole the show.
The space rock entered Earth’s atmosphere above China, near the border of Myanmar, bursting into flames with an estimated energy equivalent to 540 tons of TNT. It produced an extremely bright flash which lasted long enough for many witnesses to turn their smartphone cameras skyward and capture the rare sight.
Many onlookers posted their own personal videos of the fireball on China’s Weibo social network (basically a Chinese Twitter). The videos show a small bright light eventually growing into a large flash before fizzling out, temporarily providing enough light to mimic daytime.
While it might look like the beginning of the apocalypse, the impressive fireball hasn’t been linked to any damage or casualties. That said, local news reports have noted that it caused buildings to shake as it detonated in sky.
According to NASA’s tracking of such fireballs — yes, NASA documents every single one — the most recent fireball of similar size in China fell in 2014, so they’re not unheard of, but they sure are neat to look at. This most recent one is thought to have exploded over mountainous terrain, which would make finding any resulting meteorites extremely difficult.
For a shooting star to make it on NASA’s fireball list it has to meet some minimum criteria. “A fireball is an unusually bright meteor that reaches a visual magnitude of -3 or brighter when seen at the observer’s zenith,” the agency explains. “Objects causing fireball events can exceed one meter in size. Fireballs that explode in the atmosphere are technically referred to as bolides although the terms fireballs and bolides are often used interchangeably.”