Life Science CSIRO research ship captures the moment a meteor breaks up over Tasmania’s south coast
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CSIRO research ship captures the moment a meteor breaks up over Tasmania’s south coast

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The live-stream camera on board the CSIRO’s research vessel Investigator operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but rarely does it pick up a remarkable event.

Just before 9.30pm on Wednesday, crew on board the vessel about 100 kilometres south of Tasmania were treated to the sight of a meteor breaking up over the ocean.

The bright flash of light, which appeared green to the naked eye but was captured on video in black and white, descended from space and disintegrated before their eyes.

Voyage manager John Hooper said capturing the moment was just “a stroke of luck”.

“What we saw on reviewing the live-stream footage astounded us, the size and brightness of the meteor was incredible,” he said.

“It was amazing to watch the footage and we were very fortunate that we captured it all on the ship live-stream.”

Glen Nagle from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science said while more than 100 tonnes of natural space debris enters Earth’s atmosphere daily, most of it flies over unpopulated areas, making this sighting all the more special

Mr Nagle said friction is what gives meteors their spectacular appearance.

“When a meteor enters the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, it is the friction of rock with the atmosphere that makes them burn, as their kinetic energy is converted to other forms like heat, light and sound,” he said.

“Many meteors were once asteroids, travelling through space on their own trajectory, but this changes as they pass close to Earth, where they can be affected by its gravitational pull.

“As they enter our atmosphere, they become meteors and their entry can be visually spectacular.”

The RV Investigator crew were undertaking routine seafloor mapping and trialling marine equipment when the extraordinary sight occurred – a sight they don’t think anyone else has managed to get on camera.

“Cameras are everywhere, in our pockets and around our cities, but they have to be pointed in the right place at the right time and RV Investigator was in that place and time,” Mr Nagle said.