Norwegian Skydiver Almost Gets Hit by Falling Meteor — and Captures it on Film

by Nancy Atkinson on April 3, 2014

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A multiple frame picture of the meteorite falling. Credit and copyright: Anders Helstrup, used by permission.

A multiple frame picture of the meteorite falling. Credit and copyright: Anders Helstrup, used by permission.

It sounds like a remarkable story, almost unbelievable: Anders Helstrup went skydiving nearly two years ago in Hedmark, Norway and while he didn’t realize it at the time, when he reviewed the footage taken by two cameras fixed to his helmet during the dive, he saw a rock plummet past him. He took it to experts and they realized he had captured a meteorite falling during its “dark flight” — when it has been slowed by atmospheric braking, and has cooled and is no longer luminous.

UPDATE: See our new article on this topic: Follow Up on Skydiving Meteorite: Crowdsourcing Concludes it Was Just a Rock

Respected Norwegian astrophysicist Pål Brekke confirmed to Universe Today that the story is true and the video is authentic. “I was part of the investigation – and kept secret for two years – in hope of finding the meteorite,” Brekke said via a conversation on Twitter.

Since the search for the meteorite has come up empty so far, Helstrup’s story and video has been released in an effort to recruit more people to look for the rock — and to confirm that this actually was a meteorite.

“It has been a little hard to keep it as a secret,” Helstrup told Universe Today via email, “but everyone has been loyal to the project and helped us out!”

Here’s the video:

The rock zooms by at about :15 in this video:

You can watch a slower version in the video below.

Helstrup has been searching with friends, family and volunteers after getting advice from experts from the Geological Museum in Oslo, Norwegian Space Centre and Norwegian meteor network, making painstaking efforts to pinpoint the location of where the meteorite fell.

“The meteorite has for sure some possible hiding spots,” Helstrup said. “There is a forest with lots of different places it can easily disappear. Even if there is several areas where it would be found easily, there is a river, some marshy spots and areas and lots of high grass. Therefore the best chance of a finding would be in springtime. But we have high hopes!”

Finding the rock would provide the definitive confirmation it really was a space rock that Helstrup captured on film. There’s been much debate about the veracity of both the video and the claim (read Phil Plait’s look at the evidence) but in fact, it is Helstrup who might be most skeptical this was a meteor. There are experts, however, who say there is no doubt.

“It can’t be anything else,” said geologist Hans Amundsen, quoted in the Norwegian publication NRK. “The shape is typical of meteorites – a fresh fracture surface on one side, while the other side is rounded.”

He added that the meteorite may have been part of a larger rock that had exploded perhaps 20 kilometers above Helstrup.

What if the rock would have hit Helstrup or his diving partner? Amundson said the rock would have cut him in half.

“Imagine a 5 kilo rock hitting you in the chest at 300 kilometers per hour,” Amundson says in the video. “That would have led to quite an accident investigation.”

This is unique because — if confirmed — this is the first time a meteor in dark flight has been captured on film.

“Fireballs entering the atmosphere have been filmed many times,” says Morten Bilet in the video. Bilet is a meteorite expert. “This is unique because it was filmed during its so called “dark flight” – after it has been burned out. That’s never been done before so this is something new and exciting.”

We’ve asked Helstrup to keep us posted on any developments in this story or if the meteorite is found.

You can read more about the story from NRK, and the Norwegian Space Center, and the Norwegian Meteorite Society.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

suddengenesis April 3, 2014 at 8:34 PM

This video’s meteorite
Was taken amidst its dark flight
Skydivers beware
It wouldn’t fight fair
Velocity augments its might

astroglen April 3, 2014 at 9:00 PM

I think in the video the rock passed at :15

Aqua4U April 4, 2014 at 1:56 AM

Geeze…. What are the odds of _that_ ever happening again? Prettay close to zero, eh? Begs the question: Do you think something similar has happened before? Maybe even knocked an airplane out of the sky? We’d never know!

This is truely amazing… I hope this wasn’t a set up or prank…. because it’s just TOO COOL!

Gnark1ll April 4, 2014 at 2:45 AM

Well…to apply Occams razor…Is it not more likely that this was a rock or pebble that fell out of the chute when it was deployed?

The timing of its appearance as the chute unfurls is rather too close for comfort when arguing the case for identifying this object as of extra terrestrial origin.

I hope they find it and that it does indeed turn out to be an extraordinary video…but really…what is more likely? : D

Mid air near miss with meteorite, or a rock that got caught up in the parachute rig when it was being packed, and fell out on deployment?

squidgeny April 4, 2014 at 8:03 AM

I’m guessing the video analysis rules that possibility out.

Also I’d expect that parachutes are packed a little more carefully than that – after all someone’s life depends on it – and I can’t imagine a rock of that size casually sneaking in.

Dav_Daddy April 4, 2014 at 8:38 AM

I don’t know he may be on to something. It doesn’t look so big as for it to be impossible to not be noticed in a parachute that has been folded over a few times.

Also to my eye on the video it doesn’t look fast enough. It’s impossible to tell from the few frames it’s in but it may have actually been speeding up? As if the unfurling of chute kicked up into a steep parabola arc that comes down right by the guy.

I’d imagine people far smarter than myself have already considered that and ruled it out? But maybe not it could be a little wishful thinking on their part too, if they ever find the thing we’ll know for sure then.

Gnark1ll April 4, 2014 at 9:27 PM

Well chutes are often packed on the floor…usually of course in a hangar, but almost always on the floor. Sure its done carefully, but not SO carefully that they couldnt miss a pretty good sized stone getting caught up in the canopy.

Although Im no expert, I did complete 9 jumps so I could wear a fancy winged badge during my military career. Part of this did include packing chutes, and there are stages of the process that can involve feet/shoes coming into contact with the canopy, more accurately kneeling on it, rather than standing on it…but which could easily result in foreign objects being introduced..

Im sure there are videos on youtube demonstrating parachute packing…You will notice numerous opportunities for rocks to get in…It doesnt even have to be during the packing process..Im sure everyone has found errant pebbles in pockets, shoes, bags…whose presence is ‘unexplained’ but have obviously been ‘picked up’ , ‘dropped in’ or any number of possibilities. None of which require an extra-terrestrial explanation.

Regarding ‘no way a rock that size could get in’, well, there is no way to measure the scale of the object in this video..it could be a mere pebble, but very close to the lens…or a larger object further away. If analysis had made any definite discoveries regarding the object..we would have heard about it in this article. For instance a measurement of its speed, its size/mass or curve of its trajectory.

Its apparent speed, seemingly faster than the parachutist, can be accounted for simply due to the fact that the skydiver is decelerating rapidly due to chute deploy, and the rock, unattached to the same arresting device, continues to fall, and perhaps even slightly accelerates, if the skydiver had not reached teh possible terminal velocity for the rock.

I really think that a rock getting caught up in the pack at some point and being released when the cord was pulled is by far the most feasible explanation.

The only evidence presented that supports it being a ‘Dark Mode Meteor’ is that ‘it looks like one’. Quoted by a geologist.

It may well look like one…but Im afraid that its presence in mid air in proximity to a sky diver remains totally unexplained.

I went to some effort making my case here, because your comment was quite dismissive, despite it being wholly based on a ‘guess’ and an ‘expectation’…a risky manner of conducting yourself on a website largely populated by science folk.

I for one really hope the object is indeed of extra terrestrial origin, but your comment rubbed me the wrong way Im afraid, and forced me into providing the burden of evidence, admittedly from incomplete data regarding the nature of the object, or more accurately its presence in the footage. So you get stuck with a drawn out answer refuting your dismissive reply.

I do love a mystery too, and will tend to spend inordinate time trying to solve the unsolvable, mostly for the sport of it. This is a good one too. Both explanation are possible, but the burden of proof lies with the most extraordinary claim, not the humdrum one…as per Occams Razor once again : D

mike789 April 5, 2014 at 11:54 AM

“well, there is no way to measure the scale of the object in this video.”
While we can’t measure it without knowing the camera and lens type, but we can make some educated assumptions and guesses.

If it was very close to the lens we would not have seen it in numerous frames, it would have passed through the field of view too quickly.
It also would have had to go through the chute. He reports no holes in the chute.

Pebble, stone or good sized rock, they all have pretty much the same terminal velocity, and the terminal velocity is reached quickly.
It would have needed to clear the chute either way.
Ergo, it was not close to the lens.
Since it wasn’t close to the lens, and the camera uses a wide angle lens, the rock is a fair size.

Could a rock have taken 7 seconds to fall from the chute and pass the camera? No. Not unless the rock had it’s own chute.
Watch the second video.

Could the rock have been thrown higher by the chute? No. The chute doesn’t pop up, the chute stays in place (actually, falls less quickly) while the skydiver falls. The rock would not have been tossed higher in the air.
Did the rock hover in the air, magically? No. There is no such thing as magic. So why the 7 second delay between the chute opening and the rock falling? Could the rock have been caught on the chute? Possibly, but that’s very remote. The chute opening and filling with air is pretty violent. And we still have the problem of it’s velocity in just the distance from the chute to the skydiver.

The only possibilities are:
The skydiver tossed or shot it into the air, which wasn’t seen in the video.
A second skydiver dropped it. The camera skydiver was last.
Someone tossed it out the plane as the plane circled above. (if caught they would never be allowed in that plane again, or allowed to jump or fly with those people, and after it got out, probably not with anyone)
It was a meteorite.

Occams razor states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. It being accidentally packed in a chute requires to many coincidences, including it resting on the chute after it opening for a number of seconds, then it gaining high velocity in a short distance. The person not noticing it in the chute when it’s a fair size rock.
On the other hand, it could be a meteorite.
Occams razor says it’s a meteorite.

squidgeny April 10, 2014 at 4:38 AM

I’ve never packed a parachute, so I’ll defer to your experience on that one!

Sorry if my comment seemed dismissive – not my intention – but your comment itself seemed a little dismissive to me given the video was analysed by a geologist who noted features on the rock consistent with a meteorite. That said, it’s good to be skeptical and the article certainly made no mention of the possibility the rock was packed with the parachute, which is something of a glaring omission given that every possibility ought to be discussed! So with that in mind I think my comment *was* too dismissive of your own.

Anyway thanks for the followup comment, you make good points. The only thing I might contest is whether or not the scale of the object can be measured from the video – I’m certainly no expert but the article mentions “5kg”. Not sure if that’s a hypothetical rock or an educated guess of the mass of the one being discussed – another omission the article would do well to rectify.

mike789 April 5, 2014 at 11:09 AM

Did the rock hover in the air for a few seconds?
Unless the rock is styrofoam or pumice, the rock has a much faster terminal velocity then a human does. And the rock would have been falling at the same rate as the skydiver. The camera uses a wide angle lens. That’s a fair size rock, it would have made a good lump in the packed chute. It would have been noticed.

It is possible that it was pre-arranged and someone on the plane tossed it out the door, but that would have been reckless and dangerous as hell for the skydiver and would have passed the skydiver early in the jump, so unless the plane turned around and then they tossed a rock out the door, I don’t buy it.

Occams razor: The simplest theory is it’s a meteorite. They are falling to earth all the time. “A study done in 1996 (looking at the number of meteorites found in deserts over time) calculated that for objects in the 10 gram to 1 kilogram size range, 2900-7300 kilograms per year hit Earth.”
http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=470

Gnark1ll April 10, 2014 at 1:41 PM

When are you going to do the follow up article that shows I was right all along and that this was simply a stone that got packed up into the chute?

I wouldnt normally care that much, but SO many people seem to have gone mad and thought this was a meteorite, that I have to say I was quite surprised, especially with the users of this site being almost always pretty logical and smart.

TonyInTsv April 6, 2014 at 4:58 AM

OK so you have applied Ockham’s Razor (note correct spelling, as the phrase was coined by William Ockham and punctuation) Now apply Newton’s first law of motion.

The rock appears as the parachute is opening, so Anders wouldn’t have decelerated that much yet. So how, assuming the rock was in the chute, would it have accelerated so quickly?

Ockham’s razor can’t be used to get around physics.

Gnark1ll April 10, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Well turns out I was right.

Gnark1ll April 10, 2014 at 1:43 PM

Oh and I think you will find that they werent particularly strict with how their names were spelt back then.

Nevermind the fact that it is spelt ‘Occam’ virtually everywhere…but since I was right about the ‘meteorite’ Ill give you the spelling correction (Ill keep using ‘Occam’ like everyone else though).

Pete April 4, 2014 at 11:02 AM

I’ll buy almost any explanation except that it was a meteorite. Shouldn’t a space rock still be blazing hot and shedding pieces? “Dark flight” indeed.
What was his altitude? How many frames per second was his video camera shooting? The report leaves out a lot of information that you’d think they would use to buttress their argument.
I like your stone in the parachute theory, Gnark! It is definitely small enough to be missed when packing the chute.

me April 5, 2014 at 11:32 PM

No. If a meteorite were to land on your lawn, while you’re standing there, it would be cold. After all, it has been ‘floating around’ in deep space for hundreds of thousands of years. A few seconds ripping through the atmosphere will vapourize the exterior but the rock itself would still be cold to the touch. “Shedding pieces”? Once it has slowed to terminal velocity most if not all of the ‘pieces’ have already separated.
“Dark flight” means that it is no longer traveling fast enough to “blaze”. Facts.
Even the experts are more convinced of it being a meteor than the guy who almost died by it.

whathaway April 4, 2014 at 8:37 PM

Look At The Evidence. Forget all pre-conceived notions. Ignore experts, authority and posted opinions.

The third video on the NRK site – the one that is 1 min 17 sec. At about 26 seconds the opened parachute appears. Look at the red colored panel. Watch the dark spots silhouetted thereon. Does at least one appear to move frame to frame? About the size of a rock? Follow to the path of the falling object a second later.

The diver dismissed his first thought – something from the parachute packing as he claimed it was too big. There Is Nothing To Determine the True Size. All assumptions of mass, size, speed, nature – cannot support this claim. The only lower limit on size was how close the object could be to the camera and be in focus. A few feet? A piece of gravel caught up in the folds of the material on a previous jump from the same airport as shown on his landing images. Or something else.

But decide for yourselves. Not my experience or words or training.
Cheers.

mike789 April 5, 2014 at 12:57 PM

” There Is Nothing To Determine the True Size. ”

True size, yes. How about approximate size? And we could certainly figure out how fast a pebble is falling after falling the distance of a chute to the diver. We can compare a pebble to it’s size on a camera and see if it matches what the video shows.
We can also ask why it takes seven seconds for the rock to fall from the chute to the diver after the chute opens.

There is also the information below which can be taken into account.
Field of view.
Depth of field.
Time to cross field of view.
Terminal velocity. (a 1 gram stone falls the same speed as a 1 kilogram stone)
Time it takes for an object to fall from the parachute to the diver.
Rocks line to infinity, which tells us where it came from, which isn’t close to the edge of the parachute.
The size of the parachute and it’s overhang from the diver.
Is the stone falling at the same angle as the diver?
Of course, I’m not an expert. I’m sure actual experts could find even more ways to determine approximate size, speed, distance and where it came from in the video. But what are experts good for, right?

Get a camera and a pebble and see how close you need to be to get the same apparent size. Is it inside the overhang of the parachute? Yes it is. Then try it with a wide angle lens.

andrey April 6, 2014 at 9:50 AM

For me it looks ridiculous too.

First – probability of the event. How many webcams exist watching the garages and the backyards 24×7. I never ever heard about any video with close-by meteorite hit. From my estimation, the ‘meteorite-jumper flyby’ should be one-in-the-civilization-lifespan event :).

Second, I used to climb some mountain walls and have heard fist-sized runaway rocks which had speed close to the discussed ‘terminal velocity’. The remarkable ‘shrapnel’ sound is quite loud and it the parachute guy should definitely didn’t miss it.

Forty April 6, 2014 at 3:28 PM

Don’t know if I should laugh or cry. There are experts on this story since 2 years, and some comment trolls know after 2 minutes that the dumb skydiver packed a rock in his parachute. Why not, happens all the time. In a world of non-experts who never ever packed a chute in their boring life.

tonikeys April 6, 2014 at 6:32 PM

That looks way more like a pure iron meteorite to me! (Not breccia.) Especially if you look at the closeup video of it on youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htX0doO_syU

wreckhur April 6, 2014 at 10:27 PM

I liked the people commenting on scientific facts, rather than the “I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express” crowd. Your minimal experience really doesn’t lend any credence to your argument.

While we can’t know for sure what kind of camera it was exactly, it looked suspiciously like a Go Pro cam or something similar. Most of these cams are wide field of view, this would appear to rule out the pebble idea. That takes us back to the fist sized “rock”.

I have packed more than a few chutes. Actually without looking at logs, I have lost count and with a whole lot of jumps under my belt… I have never seen a fist size rock appear in a chute. I’m actually quite appalled at the notion that people could fathom this ridiculous thought. The level of stupidity the parachute rigger would have to possess would almost certainly disqualify him from this job. Moreover it’s much more likely that a man jumping a wingsuit, probably packs his own chutes. I think anyone would notice a rock that big, especially when you jump what you rig, it’s called attention to detail.

So until a better theory than, maybe a magic rock was packed by a leprechaun while they were folding this parachute in the bottom of a rock gravel quarry under a full eclipse, arrises. I’m sticking with actual expert testimony that it was in fact a meteorite.

Michael Colby April 7, 2014 at 9:49 AM

Those tricky leprechaun are always trying to confuse the scientific community. Gotta stay alert these days, you know?

whathaway April 7, 2014 at 10:30 PM

My apologies if someone else already posted this but it is too good to pass up.

Sir James Dewar (1842-1923), in 1892: “Minds are like parachutes – they only function when they are open.”

Now that we’ve crossed that bridge … a few comments.

The web page has this:

“The front camera is a Contour VholdR recording in 1080p30. Try their website for specs. It’s 110 degrees IIRC 135 degrees. The back camera is a GoPro Hero2 recording in 720p50. To estimate the size not just as a function of distance, you also need to know its relative speed, which is not known precisely.”
And:
“The camera mounted on the front side of the helmet records in 1080p30 and captures the best details and the meteorite is visible in 7 frames. ”

A wide angle camera (135 degrees) works almost precisely the opposite of what I think many people have been saying. They have much distortion (necessary to pull in the wide field into the detector) with the particular characteristic that anything that is close to the camera lens appears much larger than it would farther away. A quick search finds this page:
http://www.photographymad.com/pages/view/wide-angle-lenses
with examples.

So much for the object being too big to be a pebble. It might be as large as people assume, but the images do not exclude it being small. On the screen I viewed the still images, the object in the first frame was 2mm wide; the seventh it was 5mm. This of course is not the size of the object but just a measure of the increase in apparent size as it came nearer to the camera lens. Other displays would show different size but should all show it only slightly more than doubled in apparent extent. Well within what such a lens could do for a small pebble up close. A far distant object could also work. But we’re still working to eliminate any possibility and the question is still open.

A packer would not load a substantial rock. But grit happens. In the history of the activity, mistakes have been documented, many much more serious than a pebble.

I respectfully decline to brag my experience(s). I stated from the start to avoid the appeal to authority fallacy. Suffice to say it/they is/are considerable and I believe unmatched by anyone here. Useless for this problem.

What I do ask for though – an expert in packing, design or use of parachutes.
What explains those dark spots on the red panel? Are they reinforcements for attachments of lines? Are they patches for repairs? Shadows from rippling folds or other trick of lighting? Contamination ? And why does at least one appear to shift position – towards the edge just before the following frames show an object? Can anyone freeze the video to see if there is one more frame before their frame 1 that could catch another image? I’ll try but others welcome.

Humans are notoriously poor at judging the distance to something. Even trained observers with their stereo vision and ideal conditions cannot tell much beyond 20 feet/7 meters. But nearly all instinctively and automatically assign a distance to what they see, especially when they do not know the ‘thing’. Golfers either use range finders or the experience of a good caddie knowing the course to pick their club. Major league ball players do a great job in tracking a fly ball of known and familiar size to make their catch. Even they tune up before each inning to get their bearings. I wonder how they’d react if someone slipped in a baseball of say 80% standard size or maybe 150%. Anyway, (mis-)identification of unknown and unexpected objects has a lot of lore. Hear it all the time.

Finally – I know that some people take any question on a topic as an attack on their view/opinion/honor/ability. Seems weird to me. I’d rather find an answer than personal validation.

wreckhur April 14, 2014 at 6:11 PM

Obviously sarcasm is the wrong approach here. Maybe I should have worded my first statement differently. Perhaps I thought amongst intelligent individuals I would find a similar sense of humor and that those using non-scientific theories would fail to comprehend my sleights. Apologies on my miscalculation, I will forthwith only speak in blunt terms.

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