October 15, 2009—When amateur photographer Robert Mikaelyan went out to snap an old Dutch sugar factory on Tuesday, he captured a rare treat: a huge exploding fireball in the sky.
Hundreds of people in the Netherlands and Germany reported seeing the fireball streak across the twilight skies around 7 p.m. local time on October 13.
Mikaelyan managed to capture several shots of the fireball as it swung low over the northern city of Groningen and began to break apart into smaller chunks.
"I suddenly saw a light in the sky coming fast
and quickly got the pictures taken," Mikaelyan said via email.
A few seconds after the fireball had been sighted, witnesses heard a sonic boom followed by low rumbles that rattled windows—signatures of a high-altitude explosion.
(Related: "Giant Meteor Fireball Explodes Over Northwest U.S.")
The object was most likely a rogue space rock that disintegrated shortly after hitting Earth's atmosphere, say experts, who speculate that pieces of the meteor may have landed in the North Sea (see map).
"Indeed it was a huge event," said Theo Jurriens, of the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute at the University of Groningen.
Earth is constantly being bombarded by smaller debris from comets, asteroids, and even other rocky planets in the solar system. But a fireball of this size and brightness is likely seen anywhere in the world only every 20 to 25 years, Jurriens estimates.
For photographer Mikaelyan, "it was a very special thing to see, especially the light and the speed."