New Zealand is fortunate to be the final resting place of an over 4 billion-year-old space rock which dazzled many as it fell to Earth on Monday night.
So says University of Otago professor of geology James Scott, who has provided the Herald with footage of the incredible and otherworldly phenomenon.
Residents from Canterbury to Auckland watched as the fireballs shot through the sky between 8pm and 10pm Monday.
And for any keen expeditionists, Scott said the rock likely landed in the north of the Waitaki River in Otago, however, “it’s probably a bit small to be easily found, and the terrain would make searching for something so small impractical.”
The meteor was initially spotted travelling 12km a second - that’s 43,200km/h - according to calculations by Jesse Stayte and Peter McKellar of Fireballs Aotearoa.
Scotts said, “[it] had reached a relatively pedestrian speed of 2km/s at the end of the fireball stage”.
Scott said the meteor was first detected when it was about 80km above the Earth’s surface.
“The bright stage formed as a result of air in front of the rock being compressed [as it fell], and consequently heating and melting the surface of the rock,” he said.
“The compressed air also slowed the rock down.”
The surface of the meteor then vapourised due to the heating and melting, leaving a black skin made from glass. The inside of the rock will be a different colour and texture.
The meteor “winked out” - going dark - about 30km above the surface of the Earth, after about 10 seconds of initially bursting into a bright spectacle.
After it hit the ground, “had it survived the meteor likely only weighed about 100 grams, according to Fireballs Aotearoa’s calculations.
“People in the [Waitaki River] area should keep their eyes out for an unusual black rock or rocks sitting on the surface,” Scott said.
“If found, it would [be] NZ’s 10th meteorite in 160 years.
“The fireball camera trajectory shows that this meteor originated in the Asteroid Belt. Therefore, the rock is probably close to 4.56 billion years old and we are fortunate that it chose NZ as its final resting place.”
Texts flooded into late-night talk show host Marcus Luch on Newstalk ZB describing the flaming ball.
“Just saw a nice meteorite go over Canterbury (Lincoln),” one texter said just after 8.30pm.
Around 8.50pm another spotted two meteors shooting over Bombay, saying they were “pretty bright”, with a “fireball” shooting across Glen Innes half an hour later “very high but very fast”.
Several people in Napier also spotted bright lights in the sky.
“Did anyone else just see that burning ball of fire in the sky?” one said. “Not sure if it was a meteorite but wow.”
Several people responded that they had felt a slight shake, which they assumed was an earthquake.
A meteor is the technical term for the fireball or shooting star produced when a space rock enters the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed and burns up, according to Nasa.
If the object does not completely burn up in the atmosphere and hits the Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Scott said there were “several” of these events a year: “And we estimate that New Zealand probably [gets] at least three-four meteorites [more] than 100g [a] year.
“There are more out there to be found,” he said.
Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.