Unexpected Meteor Lights Up the Sky in Portugal and Spain

When a meteor is set to enter Earth's atmosphere, scientists are typically prepared for it. But over the weekend, a fragment of a comet lit up the sky in Portugal and Spain, taking everyone by surprise. Caught on camera by the European Space Agency (ESA) and social media users, video footage shows a bright streak that lights up the night sky with a bluish-green color.

The ESA estimates that the meteor was traveling at over 100,000 miles per hour—twice the speed of a typical meteor.  It burned up over the Atlantic Ocean, making the probability of finding meteorites unlikely. While meteor showers like the annual Perseids are fairly common, it's rarer to see a single meteor creating such a spectacular light show.

In this case, scientists believe that a larger-than-normal fragment of an icy comet broke off. This created a big meteor, which emitted a considerable amount of light when it burned up. Speed is also a contributing factor, as kinetic energy can intensify its color. The green color is likely due to nickel, which is one of the heavier metals found in meteors.

Though the light show was spectacular, it also raised concerns given that it was unexpected.

“It would have been great to detect the object prior to colliding with the Earth,” says Juan Luis Cano, a member of ESA’s Planetary Defence Office.

If the object was larger or had burned up over a populated area, the results could have been quite serious. In 2013, a meteor exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains, releasing over 25 times the energy of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and injuring over 1,400 people. ESA's Planetary Defence Office works to mitigate these issues by monitoring for asteroids and working to produce new technology that will allow us to spot any incoming foreign bodies.

For now, we can enjoy the unexpected  celestial event’s bright night glow that left people in awe. Scroll down to see some of the most spectacular footage that was accidentally captured.

A large meteor lit up the sky in Spain and Portugal.

Everyone was caught off guard, as the fast-moving comet fragment wasn’t on scientist’s radar.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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