Timelapse Photographer Accidentally Films a Meteoroid Exploding

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.

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“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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