On December 12, 2015, astrophotographer Nao Tharp braved the cold and set up his gear in Red Rock Canyon State Park to shoot a 4K timelapse sequence of the Geminid Meteor Shower. During filming, however, he was suddenly surprised to see “a bright spark [that] illuminated the entire rim of eroded sandstone canyon, followed by [an] orange fume floating in the sky.”
Upon closer review, Tharp realized he had documented an incredibly rare astronomic phenomenon: a meteoroid explosion. Watch a clip of his amazing footage here:
Meteoroids are generally pebble-sized and composed of stone or metal. Some meteoroids can travel up to 42 kilometers per second, which translates to nearly 94,000 miles per hour. As these rapidly-moving particles enter Earth’s atmosphere, they sometimes explode. According to Tharp’s calculations, the fiery plume floated in the air for nearly 40 minutes after the meteoroid exploded.
“I was out there all by myself in pitch-dark desert shooting astrophotography timelapse, hoping to capture a few frames of light streaks from [the] Geminid meteor shower, which had peaked a few days prior to that night,” said Tharp in the video caption. “It was indeed a great night with dozens of sightings of sparking meteoroids, but the [resulting] timelapse sequence was overwhelming and mind blowing.”
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