The luminescence of the fireball was quite startling. / sur

A spectacular fireball, as bright as the full moon, seen over Andalucía early on Sunday

It entered our atmosphere over the Atlantic at a speed of about 57,000 kilometres an hour and could be seen from more than 700 kilometres away

ISABEL MÉNDEZ Malaga

Early risers in southern Spain may have been surprised to see what looked like another full moon in the sky at 5.34 on Sunday morning: it was in fact a fireball over the Gulf of Cadiz, so bright that it was visible from over 700 kilometres away.

Astrophysicist José María Madiedo, a researcher at the Andalusian Astrophysics Institute and director of the SMART project, explained that calculations reveal that the rock which caused this phenomenon came from an asteroid and entered our atmosphere at a speed of about 57,000 kilometres an hour.

As it hit the air at that speed, the surface of the rock heated to a temperature of several thousand degrees centigrade and became incandescent. It was that incandescence which gave it the appearance of a spectacular fireball which began about 94 kms over the Atlantic, some 31 kilometres from Cadiz city.

From there, it headed south-east and ended at an altitude of approximately 38 kilometres just 300 metres off the Cadiz coast at Conil de la Frontera. There were several explosions as it went, caused by breakages in the rock, resulting in sudden bright flashes.

The fireball was recorded by the SMART project systems at the observation stations in Huelva, La Hita (Toledo), Sierra Nevada, La Sagra (Granada) and Seville.