Astronomers have analyzed the cometary fireball that blazed across the sky over Europe last year and concluded it was a dense object, about a meter (3.2 feet) across and with a mass of nearly two tons - large enough that some fragments probably survived intact and fell to the ground as meteorites.
© J. Perez Vallejo/SPMNThe Bejar bolide photographed from Torrelodones, Madrid, Spain. The incoming fireball is the streak to the right of the floodlit house. The bright light at the top is the overexposed Moon.
Last July, people in Spain, Portugal and France watched the brilliant fireball produced by a boulder crashing down through the Earth's atmosphere. In a paper to be published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
, astronomer Josep M. Trigo-Rodríguez, of the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain, and his co-authors present dramatic images of the event. The scientists also explain how the boulder may originate from a comet which broke up nearly 90 years ago, and suggest that chunks of the boulder (and hence pieces of the comet) are waiting to be found on the ground.
"If we are right, then by monitoring future encounters with other clouds of cometary debris, we have the chance to recover meteorites from specific comets and analyse them in a lab," Dr Trigo-Rodríguez said. "Handling pieces of comet would fulfil the long-held ambitions of scientists - it would effectively give us a look inside some of the most enigmatic objects in the Solar System."