ATLAS Sees a Meteor!

As I was doing my morning routine, which lately includes sifting through the previous night’s exposures for various reasons, a particular set of images caught my eye with one being exceptionally flashy:

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Now, what on Earth could that be, I thought to myself, with mouth agape and eyes wide.  Then, I spotted the other two obvious images that indeed showed a meteoroid entering the Earth’s atmosphere.  We have seen many meteors in our data in the past, but nothing ever this strange looking!  So I looked closely at the other two images, which it quickly became apparent that they were all three different parts of the sky.  What’s more, they’re all right next to each other–now this is getting interesting!  I began to wonder, could this be some kind of erratic path that it took as it broke up?  Let’s stitch them together into a mosaic to see what it looks like.  The results looked puzzling when I first constructed the mosaic:

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The discontinuities made sense, because of time difference between images, but I wasn’t sure if the object had split up and that’s what was causing the big looped trail in the third image.  But wait a minute–ahah!  We use an ‘auxiliary’ camera on the ATLAS telescopes that matches in exposure length and timing to the main camera.  So I went to pull those images and chucked them together.  Finally, a coherent picture of what happened!

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In summary, to explain what you’re looking at here:  the first image contains the streak; the second image contains the large smoke trail that had drifted slightly up in the 20 or 30 second period between images; and the third image at top shows the smoke trail after it had drifted for a little over 10 minutes.