Last night, Dec. 6th at 1:06 a.m. MST, a meteor of stunning brightness lit up the skies of Colorado. Astronomer Chris Peterson photographed the event using a dedicated all-sky meteor camera in the town of Guffey, near Colorado Springs:

Colorado bolide
© Chris Peterson

"In seven years of operation, this is the brightest fireball I've ever recorded," says Peterson. "I estimate the terminal explosion at magnitude -18, more than 100 times brighter than a full Moon."

Fireballs this bright belong to a rare category of meteors called superbolides. They are caused by small asteroids measuring a few to 10 meters in diameter and massing hundreds of metric tons. Superbolides trigger seismic detectors on the ground, produce waves of infrasound that can travel thousands of miles, and they are tracked by military satellites scanning Earth for nuclear explosions. Recent examples include the El Paso fireball of 1997 and the Slovenian Superbolide of 2007.

Last night's fireball is on the low end of the superbolide scale. Nevertheless, it was still a beauty and likely peppered the ground with meteorites when it exploded. Sighting reports are welcomed; they could help guide the tracking and recovery of debris.

LISTEN! 250 miles south of the fireball, radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft of New Mexico photographed the flash and recorded radio echoes from the superbolide's ion trail. Click here to listen.