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NASA releases images of giant 'fireball' exploding over Earth last year

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 3/25/2019 Brett Molina
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NASA released images of a meteor exploding over the Bering Sea last December in what was the largest recorded event since 2013.

The images of the "fireball," a term used by NASA to describe "exceptionally bright meteors that are spectacular enough to to be seen over a very wide area," were captured on December 18, 2018, using instruments on the Terra satellite, the agency said.

The Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument captured an image sequence of the meteor a few minutes after the event, while the Moderate Resolution Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MODIS) captured a color image of remnants of the meteor's passage, NASA said.

Last week, NASA revealed the Dec. 18 explosion unleashed energy equivalent to 173 kilotons of TNT, more than 10 times the energy generated by the atomic bomb used in Hiroshima in 1945.

"An event like this might occur two to three times a century," Lindley Johnson, a planetary defense officer at NASA, told USA TODAY last week.

NASA said because of the altitude of the meteor and its location in a remote area, the event did not pose a threat to anyone on the ground.

The last "fireball" event similar to this was in 2013, when a meteor exploded in Russia's Chelyabinsk region, captured on video by security and dashboard cameras. Johnson said that meteor generated energy equal to 440 kilotons of TNT.

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