Falling asteroid sparks brilliant fireball over Europe just hours after discovery (video)

A dramatic fireball lit up European skies just hours after its discovery in space.

Krisztián Sárneczky spotted the small asteroid at Konkoly Observatory's Piszkéstető Station, located some 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast from Budapest, with a 2-foot (0.6-meter) telescope. The information was passed along to the European Space Agency, hours before it fell into the atmosphere around 10 p.m. EST Feb. 12 (0300 GMT Feb. 13).

"I discovered this small body during a routine NEO [near Earth object] hunt," Sárneczky told Space.com senior writer Tereza Pultarova in an e-mail. "It was immediately obvious that it was an NEO, but it wasn't particularly fast across the sky, as it was heading right towards us, and it was faint," Sárneczky added.

It's not the first time Sárneczky has given a heads-up for a dramatic fireball event, as the professional asteroid hunter did the same thing in March 2022. "At the time I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime event," he said. "I was wrong."

Related: What are asteroids?

Screenshot of a video showing a fireball falling over France Feb. 13, 2023. (Image credit: Thomas Petit @MegaLuigi - Rouen, France)

By coincidence, the fireball fell almost exactly 10 years after a six-story space rock unexpectedly exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013, causing minor injuries and damage. Space agencies around the world reaffirmed their commitment to tracking such objects at the time, with NASA opening a Planetary Defense Coordination Office in the wake of the event.

Most fireballs are completely harmless, however, and it is rare for any fragments to make it to the ground. NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and numerous other entities nevertheless keep a 24/7 watch on the sky for any asteroids coming near the Earth's orbit. Nothing critically threatening to our planet has been found in decades of searching, but the watch continues, just in case.

The detection of the 3.2-foot (one-meter) meteoroid, called SAR 2667, is only the seventh time astronomers have been able to do so, according to ESA. "It's a sign of the rapid advances in global detection capabilities," the agency wrote on Twitter.

The event generated 40 reports early in the morning local time (roughly 0300 GMT) in the United Kingdom and on the European continent, according to the American Meteor Society. Reports came from locations like England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Editor's Note: If you snapped a photo or video of the fireball and would like to share it with Space.com's readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace