The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Asteroid burning up over France, England puts on colorful show

An asteroid illuminated the night sky over the English Channel on Feb. 13, as seen in Twitter videos taken in different cities across the south of England. (Video: Twitter @KadeFlowers/@fc_kova via Reuters)
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An asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up over the English Channel early Monday, in a colorful display captured by many residents under its path. Photos and videos showed it blazing a bright green trail — before lighting up the night sky with flashes of orange.

The European Space Agency and NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies detected the object, which they said was around one meter in diameter.

It was the seventh time in history that an asteroid strike was forecast ahead of time. The ESA said the accurate prediction served as “a sign of the rapid advancements in global asteroid detection capabilities.”

“In the area? Look out for a #ShootingStar!,” the ESA tweeted Sunday, noting that the small asteroid would safely strike Earth’s atmosphere over northern France around 4 a.m. Central European Time.

Those on the ground in Southern England and near the French coast did just that, taking to social media to share their views of the fiery space rock — also known as “Sar2667.”

Many ventured outside in the early hours to capture the moment on video, describing the display as “magnificent” and “beautiful.” Others watched from their windows for what the International Meteor Association said would be a “nice fireball” that would also be visible in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Those who braved the wintry weather in the port city of Portsmouth, England, said the scene was “well worth the cold hands.” While in Normandy, France, witnesses shared video of the sky flashing from blue to orange.

Many people took to Twitter to thank the space agencies for alerting them to the spectacle ahead of time so that they could position themselves to see the celestial event unfold — even if it meant staying up late.

Sometimes referred to as “minor planets,” asteroids are ancient pieces of rubble left behind when the solar system formed about 4.6 billion years ago, according to NASA, which says it has counted more than 1.2 million asteroids.

In some cases, asteroids collide with one another, causing fragments to break off and form meteoroids, according to NASA. When meteoroids burn up upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere, they create a streak of light in the sky. Asteroids orbit the sun and are known to move erratically by rotating and tumbling, NASA says.

Last month, an asteroid the size of a delivery truck narrowly passed Earth, with NASA reassuring people at the time that the 19-foot object would not end life as we know it on our planet.

A 19-foot asteroid will come ‘very close’ to Earth tonight, NASA says

Unlike the asteroid that was visible above the English Channel on Monday, January’s huge asteroid — named 2023 BU — was less bright and so was difficult to see from the Earth, experts said.