Fireballs, spaceships and … iguanas? 7 strange things that fell from the sky in 2020

On Nov. 18, 2020, a bright green meteor streaked across the night sky near CSIRO’s research vessel Investigator, which is currently stationed in the Tasman Sea, off the southern coast of Tasmania, Australia.
On Nov. 18, 2020, a bright green meteor streaked across the night sky near CSIRO’s research vessel Investigator, which is currently stationed in the Tasman Sea, off the southern coast of Tasmania, Australia. (Image credit: CSIRO)

Space rocks crash to Earth carrying compounds that were formed billions of years ago. Spaceships perform fancy flips in the air but explode when they touch back down too quickly. And sometimes, iguanas fall from trees and land belly-up, frozen on the ground. 

Here's a list of seven intriguing objects — and a few reptiles — that made headlines for falling from the sky.

Exploding, green fireball over the Tasman Sea 

Researchers captured an incredible video when a bright, green meteor zipped over the southern coast of Tasmania, Australia — though a bit unfortunately, the video is in black-and-white. A research vessel called Investigator, which is operated by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, filmed the fireball as it burst through Earth's atmosphere, crossed the sky and then disintegrated above the Tasman Sea. People who witnessed the meteor first-hand said that it appeared green to the naked eye. 

Rainbow meteorite found in Costa Rica 

A cross section of a small Aguas Zarcas fragment shows colorful clays that might include complex organic compounds.

(Image credit: Laurence Garvie/Center for Meteorite Studies/Arizona State University)

A rainbow-color space rock broke up over Costa Rica in 2019 and scattered debris between the villages of La Palmera and Aguas Zarcas. Now, ongoing studies hint that the fireball may contain the chemical building blocks of life. The soft meteor originally broke off of a larger asteroid, which formed out of dust from an ancient nebula. That very nebula would later birth our solar system. The rainbow meteor contains complex carbon compounds, which may include amino acids, which can come together to form proteins and molecules like DNA. 

The sudden explosion of a SpaceX prototype 

SpaceX's Starship program launched a prototype called SN8 during a high-altitude test flight, and all went according to plan — other than the landing. The prototype took off from SpaceX's facility Boca Chica, Texas and zoomed about 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) into the sky, performing complex aerial maneuvers on the way. The vehicle then descended onto a designated landing mark on the ground, but it came in too fast and burst into flames. The explosion occurred just 6 minutes and 42 seconds after liftoff. 

A meteorite in Michigan 

Optical micrograph of the complete Strawberry Lake meteorite (Hamburg ME 6108) before cutting.

(Image credit: Copyright Heck et al., Field Museum)

A meteorite crumbled up in the sky over Hamburg, Michigan, and the pieces fell down onto a frozen lake below. That was in January 2018; this year, after thoroughly analysing the space rock, scientists announced that the meteorite contained thousands of organic compounds that formed billions of years ago. The compounds date back to the early days of our solar system, meaning meteorites that crashed onto young Earth may have carried similar molecules. Back then, organic compounds from meteors could have been incorporated into primitive microbes, the team said, so studying the Michigan meteor can give us a glimpse into early life on the planet. 

Comet debris may have leveled an ancient Syrian village 

An artist's image of the last seconds in the prehistoric village of Abu Hureyra, where a fireball from the sky likely destroyed the village.

(Image credit: Jennifer Rice,

The prehistoric village of Abu Hureyra in northern Syria housed the first known farmers on Earth, but then some mysterious, fiery incident destroyed the town, leaving mostly remnants of thatched huts coated in carbon. Among the wreckage, excavators also found glass spheres formed from melting soil, melted iron- and sulfur-rich samples and nanodiamonds. Scientists recently examined these glassy materials more closely and found that they could only have formed at temperatures over 3,630 F (2,000 C). The team concluded that fragments from a passing comet likely exploded over the village, releasing an intense heatwave that scorched the village and the soil beneath it. 

Dinosaur-killing asteroid struck at the worst possible angle 

Original artwork depicting the moment the asteroid struck 66 million years ago, in what is now Mexico.

(Image credit: Chase Stone)

The monstrous space rock that wiped out the dinosaurs slammed into Earth at such a steep angle that the dinos never really stood a chance. Scientists modeled the path of the asteroid and found that it struck at an angle of about 60 degrees above the horizon. Compared with shallower impact angles, this trajectory caused the asteroid to spew about three times as much sulfur and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the model. The gas released by the impact triggered global climate change and killed 75% of all life on Earth, including all non-avian dinosaurs.  

Iguanas raining down on Floridians 

A cold-stunned iguana lies belly-up in Key Biscayne, Florida, during an unusual cold snap in 2008.

(Image credit: Tim Chapman/El Nuevo Herald/MCT/Newscom)

"Cool temperatures with a chance of falling reptiles" — this is essentially the warning the National Weather Service sends out when the temperature falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) in southern Florida. That's because, when the weather gets cool, the iguanas that usually hang out in the treetops become too old to hold onto branches. As their metabolisms slow down, the lizards go stiff, fall to the ground and appear dead; but once the weather warms up, they snap back into action.

Originally published on Live Science. 

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Nicoletta Lanese
Live Science Staff Writer

Nicoletta Lanese is a staff writer for Live Science covering health and medicine, along with an assortment of biology, animal, environment and climate stories. She holds degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work has appeared in The Scientist Magazine, Science News, The San Jose Mercury News and Mongabay, among other outlets.