Three exceptional celestial phenomena in the Iberian Peninsula in less than two months

In less than two months, the Iberian Peninsula has witnessed three truly exceptional celestial phenomena. Not only are these events individually rare, but it is even more surprising that they have occurred in such a short period of time. Below, I tell you all the details.

First event: The fireball of March 29, 2024

The first phenomenon occurred on March 29, 2024. A fireball, identified as SPMN290324 ART, crossed the sky from Barcelona to Valencia, ending its path in the Mediterranean Sea, near the Balearic Islands. This celestial object shone intensely with an estimated magnitude of -9, which allowed it to be visible at a great distance.

Initially, there was confusion about the nature of the object. There was speculation that it could be an Elon Musk satellite or even a ballistic missile. However, a few days later, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) confirmed that it was a natural object.

Second event: Aurora borealis on May 10, 2024

The second notable event took place on May 10, when an aurora borealis illuminated the skies over the entire Iberian Peninsula, being especially visible in Andalusia. This type of phenomenon is extremely rare in such southern latitudes and, in addition, the aurora showed an unusual pink color.

Northern lights are produced when solar particles interact with the Earth's atmosphere. Although they are common in areas near the poles, seeing one in Spain, and more so in Andalusia, is exceptional.

Third event: The bolide of May 18, 2024

The most recent event occurred on May 18, 2024. Another dazzling fireball crossed the skies of Spain and Portugal, with a magnitude of -17, much brighter than the first one. This phenomenon was visible for several seconds, which is exceptionally long for this type of event, and emitted a green light due to its high magnesium content.

This fireball was seen from Galicia to the north of Portugal and other regions in between. The night of May 18 became an unforgettable spectacle for those lucky enough to see it. The magnitude of -17 made it much brighter than Venus, which has a magnitude of -4.

Technical and scientific details

A bolide is a very bright meteor, a rock that passes through the Earth's atmosphere at very high speeds, between 11 and 72 kilometers per second. Friction with the air produces intense heating that causes the object to glow and, in some cases, explode before reaching the ground. These phenomena are much brighter than ordinary shooting stars and can be visible even in broad daylight.

The bolide of May 18 had exceptional visibility due to its combination of size, speed, chemical composition and atmospheric conditions. Its green color was caused by the presence of magnesium in its composition.

Comparison with other historical events

To put into context how rare and spectacular these events are, we can compare them to other historic fireballs. In 2013, a bolide exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, with a magnitude of -28, causing significant damage and injury to 1500 people. Although the 2024 event was not as intense, its visibility and duration make it especially noteworthy.

Another famous event is that of Tunguska in 1908, where a bolide exploded over Siberia, flattening 2000 square kilometers of forest. Although the bolide of May 18, 2024 was not destructive, its high visibility and impact area made it very memorable.

These three events in less than two months in the Iberian Peninsula are extraordinary. The rarity, brightness, duration and color of these phenomena make them unique. Thanks to technology, many people were able to record and share these events on social networks, allowing the scientific community and amateurs to enjoy and learn from them.

For those interested, I have uploaded a podcast to Spotify where I further detail these phenomena. I have also uploaded a video to YouTube with additional images and explanations. You can listen to the podcast below and watch the video at the link below.

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