Those who happened to be awake and outside in the Southeastern U.S. in the early minutes of Aug. 17 likely witnessed something they won't soon forget. At around 12:19 a.m. CDT, NASA meteor cameras picked up a green fireball that ever-so-briefly lit up the night sky with a brightness more than 40 times that of the full moon.
"Analysis of the data indicates that the meteor was first seen at an altitude of 58 miles above Turkeytown, Alabama (northeast of Gadsden), moving west of north at 53,700 miles per hour," the space agency reported. "It fragmented some 18 miles above the small town of Grove Oak."
You can see NASA's video of the asteroid below.
NASA estimates that the meteor was likely six feet in diameter. Because of its size and speed, it's possible that fragments survived entry and now lay scattered over Grove Oak, Alabama.
According to the American Meteor Society, a fireball is defined as a meteor with a brightness greater than that of the planet Venus. While several thousand fireball-class meteors enter the Earth's atmosphere every day, many occur either over the oceans or are masked by daylight. Interestingly, anyone lucky enough to find a meteorite in the moments after impact might be surprised that they're reportedly safe to handle.
"The ablation process, which occurs over the majority of the meteorite’s path, is a very efficient heat removal method, and was effectively copied for use during the early manned space flights for re-entry into the atmosphere," the group explains. "During the final free-fall portion of their flight, meteorites undergo very little frictional heating, and probably reach the ground at only slightly above ambient temperature."