Space & Science

Why are green meteors raining down on New Zealand?

Nelson’s skies were clear enough Thursday evening that some locals saw a large, bright green meteor flash in the sky (Provider: Greg Price)

Kindness, gracious. Green balls of fire rain down on New Zealand.

Well, at least one bright green meteor crossed the sky. And it’s the second major meteor to be seen over the country in just a few weeks.

On July 7, a space rock exploded near the capital Wellington, causing a sonic boom that was heard across the country’s North Island. This orange fireball exploded during the day, after lunchtime.

Just 14 days later, a second major meteor streaked across the sky, causing another sonic boom – this time heard in the South Island – and an incredible glowing green tail.

Jack Baggaley, Emeritus Professor at the University of Cantebury, says bright green meteors are relatively common in New Zealand.

The glow from the most recent meteor will have been caused by the chemicals it contained. The tiny piece of asteroid was likely composed of iron and nickel, which emit a green glow at high temperatures.

When a meteor flies at high speed through Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes incredibly hot, causing it to glow brightly.

Green meteor tails can also be caused by an effect similar to the one that creates auroras, Baggaley explained in The conversationbut this only happens when they are moving at very high speeds.

According to Radio NZ, it has been 23 years since the country’s last notable meteor. But many more – perhaps as many as 20 a year – make their way into the kiwifruit skies.

Oddly enough, a few of these space rocks are salvageable.

Fireballs Aotearoa, a collaboration between astronomers and citizen scientists that aims to recover freshly fallen meteorites, has received many questions about these events. (Credit: Aotearoa Fireballs)

Academics from the University of Canterbury and the University of Otago, alongside local citizen scientists, have launched a meteor detection network called Fireballs Aotearoa.

In addition to recording the sky with dozens of cameras, the organization is appealing to local residents for information about the sightings and the images they may have captured.

The group wants to follow the meteors as they fall in hopes of collecting fragments that have landed on the ground.

Ancient rocks are incredibly valuable to researchers because they hold secrets about the history of the universe.

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