Video: Australian Research Vessel Captures Footage of Giant Meteor

Image courtesy CSIRO

Published Nov 22, 2020 8:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last week, the Australian government research vessel RV Investigator was in just the right place at just the right time to capture video footage of a giant meteor breaking up over the Tasman Sea. 

The footage, which was captured by the ship's livestream camera, shows an exceptionally bright meteor crossing the sky in front of the ship and then breaking up over the ocean.

Though recorded in black and white, the meteor was actually bright green. It was spotted by the bridge crew and reported to the science staff on board. They were amazed to find that the meteor had been captured perfectly by the ship's livestream camera, which beams live footage from the ship 24/7.

The voyage leader on board RV Investigator, John Hooper, said it was a stroke of luck to capture this footage. "What we saw on reviewing the livestream footage astounded us, the size and brightness of the meteor was incredible," Mr Hooper said. "The meteor crosses the sky directly in front of the ship and then breaks up – it was amazing to watch the footage and we were very fortunate that we captured it."

Glen Nagle of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)'s Astronomy and Space Science said that it is a good reminder that space is far from empty. "Over 100 tonnes of natural space debris enters Earth's atmosphere every day," Mr Nagle said. "Most of it goes unseen as it occurs over an unpopulated area like the southern ocean. 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."

At the time the footage was captured - 1021 hours UTC on November 18 - RV Investigator was in the Tasman Sea about 50 nm to the south of the Tasmanian coast. The ship is in the area to undertake seafloor mapping of the Huon Marine Park for Parks Australia, conduct oceanographic studies and run sea trials for a variety of marine equipment.

Residents in Hobart, Tasmania noticed and reported the event, but the vessel's footage is believed to be the only visual record. 

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