If you were driving through the streets of Bangkok in Thailand yesterday, you might have been lucky enough to see a huge fireball zoom towards the horizon, flash, and fizzle out, as a meteor entered Earth's atmosphere at around 8.40 am local time. If you weren't lucky enough to be there, don't worry, because a whole bunch of people had their phones out so you can see it from all angles. And it is seriously cool to watch.
While some witnesses worried that the explosion was caused by a mid-air plane crash, The Bangkok Post quoted Suparerk Karuehanon from the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, who assured everyone that it was likely just a meteor burning up in the atmosphere, and was never a threat to those on the ground. "People should not worry because they are no larger than 10 metres and most of them entirely burn up in the atmosphere," he said.
The president of the Thai Astronomical Society, Prapee Viraporn, later confirmed that the flash was caused by a 'bolide' - or exploding meteor - similar to the one that flashed across the sky in Russia back in 2013, but much smaller. That Russian meteorite was estimated to weigh a whopping 10,000 tonnes before it combusted into tiny pieces. "This is a natural, normal phenomenon because small meteors fall to Earth every day, but what we saw was similar to one over Chelyabinsk in Russia two years ago," she said.
The International Business Times reports that more than 100 people had gathered near the site of the explosion to look for fallen debris. So far there have been no reports of anything hitting the ground.
Fireballs and bolides are exceptionally bright meteors that can be seen over a very wide area. While they're of course easier to see at night, the brightest ones can also be perceived by the light of day, like the ones in Bangkok and Chelyabinsk.
When a meteoroid - which is a small asteroid or comet fragment that orbits the Sun - enters Earth's atmosphere, the visible path we see is referred to as a meteor, and a fireball occurs when the meteor hits a certain level of brightness. "Fireballs that explode in the atmosphere are technically referred to as bolides, although the terms 'fireballs' and 'bolides' are often used interchangeably," says NASA.
Here's the one that streaked through the sky above Chelyabinsk on 13 February 2013: