Fireball brings Mid-Autumn surprise to Chinese skywatchers seeking the full moon

Dramatic footage shows how shooting star lights up the night sky above Yunnan province

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 October, 2017, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 October, 2017, 11:30pm

A fireball lit up the sky in southwestern China on Wednesday night, surprising many people who were looking up to watch the full moon during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Video circulating on Chinese social media showed that at a few minutes past 8pm, a ball of flame arched across the sky and lit up the darkness for several seconds, leading many observers to wonder whether they had seen a rare shooting star.

Nasa’s fireball database recorded one incident at around 8.07pm Beijing time on Wednesday at a location about 164km northwest of Lijiang, Yunnan province.

Nasa has been tracking fireballs – which are unusually bright meteors – with US government sensors since 1988.

Its last recorded sighting of a bright fireball took place in Canada on September 5.

The Yunnan fireball was a meteor that entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a velocity of 14.6 kilometres per second and carried an impact energy equivalent of 540 tonnes of TNT explosives, according to Nasa.

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The last time China recorded such a fireball was in Xilingol in Inner Mongolia in 2014. The fireball at that time had the energy of 450 tonnes of TNT.

The biggest fireball event recorded in China was in 2009, when a meteor carried the energy equivalent of 2,300 tonnes of TNT explosives.

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Fragments, or meteorites, are sometimes recovered on the ground after fireball events.

But Ye Quanzhi, a researcher from California Institute of Technology, warned via Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, that the uneven terrain in Yunnan would make it difficult to find meteorites, if there were any.

It was unclear whether the incident in Yunnan had caused any casualties or damage, but a report from the local Kunming Daily said some tourists in the region had felt buildings shake.