A space rock that entered Earth‘s atmosphere was ejected back into space and is now heading towards Jupiter, researchers have revealed. The object was seen over Australia in July of 2017, igniting for an incredibly long period before vanishing.
The traveling fireball was spotted by astronomers at the Desert Fireball Network (DFN) at Curtin University, Australia. Their observations were published on April 7th, 2020, in the Astronomical Journal.
The researchers had watched the meteor burn for 90 seconds before it disappeared, and have since determined that the planet acted like a slingshot, sending the space object back into the Solar System.
Lead researcher and Ph.D. candidate Patrick Shober said: “The 2017 fireball was extraordinary on two fronts – the extended length of time it spent in our atmosphere, producing a brilliant 90 second light show, and the fact it didn’t crash-land on Earth – but was flung back into space. The most intriguing quality about this fireball is that it basically used Earth as a type of slingshot, gaining itself an express ticket to Jupiter, where it will most likely spend around 200 thousand years in an orbit near the gas giant.”
The researchers also said that the meteor would probably have a close encounter with Jupiter in 2025. The 2017 fireball was amazing because of two factors: it has an extended length of time in the atmosphere, and it did not land somewhere on Earth but flew back into space.
The majority of asteroids that come in contact with our atmosphere will burn up before they can crash-land on the ground. Also, small space objects that fly by the planet are known as meteoroids, and those that reach the soil are dubbed meteorites.
Shober explained: “The DFN was able to photographically image and video record a majority of the fireball’s atmospheric trajectory, including where it entered and exited the atmosphere, using many of the DFN cameras. Looking at all the data associated with the meteoroid, we estimate that it had an initial mass of 60 kilograms when it first entered Earth’s atmosphere, but then lost about 20 kilograms before it exited back into space.”
The weight loss allegedly took place when the space rock was burning in the atmosphere. The team of astronomers believes that it came from an Apollo-type orbit and was pulled into a Jupiter-family comet (JFC) orbit, because of the overall energy it gained while it entered Earth.
The researchers believe that the space rock will leave the Solar System altogether or enter a new orbit around Neptune.