A meteoroid (/ˈmiːtiərɔɪd/) is a small rocky or metallic body
in outer space.
Meteoroids are significantly smaller than asteroids, and range in size
from small grains to one-meter-wide objects. Objects smaller than
this are classified as micrometeoroids or space dust. Most
are fragments from comets or asteroids, whereas others are collision
impact debris ejected from bodies such as the
Moon or Mars.
When a meteoroid, comet, or asteroid enters Earth's atmosphere at a
speed typically in excess of 20 km/s (72,000 km/h;
45,000 mph), aerodynamic heating of that object produces a streak
of light, both from the glowing object and the trail of glowing
particles that it leaves in its wake. This phenomenon is called a
meteor or "shooting star". A series of many meteors appearing seconds
or minutes apart and appearing to originate from the same fixed point
in the sky is called a meteor shower. If that object withstands
ablation from its passage through the atmosphere as a meteor and
impacts with the ground, it is then called a meteorite.
An estimated 15,000 tonnes of meteoroids, micrometeoroids and
different forms of space dust enter Earth's atmosphere each year.
1.2 In the Solar System
1.3 Collision with Earth's atmosphere
2.3 Effect on atmosphere
2.3.2 Acoustic manifestations
2.4 Meteor shower
2.5 Notable meteors
2.6 Gallery of meteors
3.1 Frequency of impacts
3.2 Impact craters
3.3 Gallery of meteorites
4 See also
4.1 Relating to meteoroids
4.2 Relating to meteors
4.3 Relating to meteorites
6 External links
See also: Micrometeoroid
Meteoroid embedded in aerogel; the meteoroid is 10 µm in
diameter and its track is 1.5 mm long
2008 TC3 meteorite fragments found on February 28, 2009, in the Nubian
In 1961, the
International Astronomical Union
International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined a
meteoroid as "a solid object moving in interplanetary space, of a size
considerably smaller than an asteroid and considerably larger than an
atom". In 1995, Beech and Steel, writing in the Quarterly
Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, proposed a new definition
where a meteoroid would be between 100 µm and 10 meters across.
In 2010, following the discovery of asteroids below 10 m in size,
Rubin and Grossman proposed a revision of the previous definition of
meteoroid to objects between 10 µm and 1 m in diameter in order
to maintain the distinction. According to Rubin and Grossman, the
minimum size of an asteroid is given by what can be discovered from
Earth-bound telescopes, so the distinction between meteoroid and
asteroid is fuzzy. Some of the smallest asteroids discovered (based on
absolute magnitude H) are 2008 TS26 with H = 33.2 and 2011 CQ1
with H = 32.1 both with an estimated size of 1 meter. In April
2017, the IAU adopted an official revision of its definition, limiting
size to between 30 µm and 1 m in diameter, but allowing for a
deviation for any object causing a meteor.
Objects smaller than meteoroids are classified as micrometeoroids and
interplanetary dust. The
Minor Planet Center does not use the term
Almost all meteoroids contain extraterrestrial nickel and iron. They
have three main classifications: iron, stone, and stony-iron. Some
stone meteoroids contain grain-like inclusions known as chondrules and
are called chondrites. Stony meteoroids without these features are
called "achondrites", which are typically formed from extraterrestrial
igneous activity; they contain little or no extraterrestrial iron.
The composition of meteoroids can be inferred as they pass through
Earth's atmosphere from their trajectories and the light spectra of
the resulting meteor. Their effects on radio signals also give
information, especially useful for daytime meteors, which are
otherwise very difficult to observe. From these trajectory
measurements, meteoroids have been found to have many different
orbits, some clustering in streams (see meteor showers) often
associated with a parent comet, others apparently sporadic. Debris
from meteoroid streams may eventually be scattered into other orbits.
The light spectra, combined with trajectory and light curve
measurements, have yielded various compositions and densities, ranging
from fragile snowball-like objects with density about a quarter that
of ice, to nickel-iron rich dense rocks. The study of meteorites
also gives insights into the composition of non-ephemeral meteoroids.
In the Solar System
Most meteoroids come from the asteroid belt, having been perturbed by
the gravitational influences of planets, but others are particles from
comets, giving rise to meteor showers. Some meteoroids are fragments
from bodies such as
Mars or our moon, that have been thrown into space
by an impact.
Meteoroids travel around the
Sun in a variety of orbits and at various
velocities. The fastest move at about 42 kilometers per second through
space in the vicinity of Earth's orbit. This is escape velocity from
the sun, equal to the square root of 2 times Earth's speed, and is the
upper speed limit of objects in the vicinity of Earth, unless they
come from interstellar space.
Earth travels at about 29.6 kilometers
per second, so when meteoroids meet the atmosphere head-on (which only
occurs when meteors are in a retrograde orbit such as the Eta
Aquarids, which are associated with the retrograde Halley's Comet) the
combined speed may reach about 71 kilometers per second (see Specific
energy#Astrodynamics). Meteoroids moving through Earth's orbital space
average about 20 km/s.
On January 17, 2013 at 05:21 PST, a 1 meter-sized comet from the Oort
Earth atmosphere over
California and Nevada. The
object had a retrograde orbit with perihelion at
0.98 ± 0.03 AU. It approached from the direction of
the constellation Virgo (which was in the south about 50° above the
horizon at the time), and collided head-on with Earth's atmosphere at
72 ± 6 km/s vapourising more than 100 km
above ground over a period of several seconds.
Collision with Earth's atmosphere
When meteoroids intersect with Earth's atmosphere at night, they are
likely to become visible as meteors. If meteoroids survive the entry
through the atmosphere and reach Earth's surface, they are called
meteorites. Meteorites are transformed in structure and chemistry by
the heat of entry and force of impact. A noted 4-meter asteroid, 2008
TC3, was observed in space on a collision course with
6 October 2008 and entered Earth's atmosphere the next day,
striking a remote area of northern Sudan. It was the first time that a
meteoroid had been observed in space and tracked prior to impacting
NASA has produced a map showing the most notable asteroid
Earth and its atmosphere from 1994 to 2013 from data
gathered by U.S. government sensors (see below).
"Meteor" redirects here. For other uses, see Meteor (other).
Meteor seen from the site of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array
World map of large meteoric events (also see Fireball below) 
A meteor, known colloquially as a "shooting star" or "falling star",
is the visible passage of a glowing meteoroid, micrometeoroid, comet
or asteroid through Earth's atmosphere, after being heated to
incandescence by collisions with air molecules in the upper
atmosphere, creating a streak of light via its rapid motion
and sometimes also by shedding glowing material in its wake. Although
a meteor may seem to be a few thousand feet from the Earth,
meteors typically occur in the mesosphere at altitudes from 76 to
100 km (47 to 62 mi). The root word meteor comes from
the Greek meteōros, meaning "high in the air".
Millions of meteors occur in Earth's atmosphere daily. Most meteoroids
that cause meteors are about the size of a grain of sand.[citation
needed] Meteors may occur in showers, which arise when
through a stream of debris left by a comet, or as "random" or
"sporadic" meteors, not associated with a specific stream of space
debris. A number of specific meteors have been observed, largely by
members of the public and largely by accident, but with enough detail
that orbits of the meteoroids producing the meteors have been
calculated. All of the orbits passed through the asteroid belt.
The atmospheric velocities of meteors result from the movement of
Earth around the
Sun at about 30 km/s (18 miles/second), the
orbital speeds of meteoroids, and the gravity well of Earth.
Meteors become visible between about 75 to 120 km (47 to
75 mi) above Earth. They usually disintegrate at altitudes of 50
to 95 km (31 to 59 mi). Meteors have roughly a fifty
percent chance of a daylight (or near daylight) collision with
Earth. Most meteors are, however, observed at night, when darkness
allows fainter objects to be recognized. For bodies with a size scale
larger than 10 cm to several meters meteor visibility is due to
the atmospheric ram pressure (not friction) that heats the meteoroid
so that it glows and creates a shining trail of gases and melted
meteoroid particles. The gases include vaporised meteoroid material
and atmospheric gases that heat up when the meteoroid passes through
the atmosphere. Most meteors glow for about a second.
Although meteors have been known since ancient times, they were not
known to be an astronomical phenomenon until early in the nineteenth
century. Prior to that, they were seen in the West as an atmospheric
phenomenon, like lightning, and were not connected with strange
stories of rocks falling from the sky. In 1807, Yale University
Benjamin Silliman investigated a meteorite that
fell in Weston, Connecticut. Silliman believed the meteor had a
cosmic origin, but meteors did not attract much attention from
astronomers until the spectacular meteor storm of November 1833.
People all across the eastern United States saw thousands of meteors,
radiating from a single point in the sky. Astute observers noticed
that the radiant, as the point is now called, moved with the stars,
staying in the constellation Leo.
Denison Olmsted made an extensive study of this storm,
and concluded that it had a cosmic origin. After reviewing historical
Heinrich Wilhelm Matthias Olbers
Heinrich Wilhelm Matthias Olbers predicted the storm's return
in 1867, which drew the attention of other astronomers to the
phenomenon. Hubert A. Newton's more thorough historical work led to a
refined prediction of 1866, which proved to be correct. With
Giovanni Schiaparelli's success in connecting the
Leonids (as they are
now called) with comet Tempel-Tuttle, the cosmic origin of meteors was
now firmly established. Still, they remain an atmospheric phenomenon,
and retain their name "meteor" from the Greek word for
Main article: List of bolides
Footage of a superbolide, a very bright fireball that exploded over
Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia in 2013
A fireball is a brighter-than-usual meteor. The International
Astronomical Union (IAU) defines a fireball as "a meteor brighter than
any of the planets" (apparent magnitude −4 or greater). The
International Meteor Organization (an amateur organization that
studies meteors) has a more rigid definition. It defines a fireball as
a meteor that would have a magnitude of −3 or brighter if seen at
zenith. This definition corrects for the greater distance between an
observer and a meteor near the horizon. For example, a meteor of
magnitude −1 at 5 degrees above the horizon would be classified as a
fireball because, if the observer had been directly below the meteor,
it would have appeared as magnitude −6.
Fireballs reaching apparent magnitude −14 or brighter are called
bolides. The IAU has no official definition of "bolide", and
generally considers the term synonymous with "fireball". Astronomers
often use "bolide" to identify an exceptionally bright fireball,
particularly one that explodes. They are sometimes called detonating
fireballs (also see List of meteor air bursts). It may also be used to
mean a fireball which creates audible sounds. In the late twentieth
century, bolide has also come to mean any object that hits
explodes, with no regard to its composition (asteroid or comet).
The word bolide comes from the Greek βολίς (bolis)  which can
mean a missile or to flash. If the magnitude of a bolide reaches −17
or brighter it is known as a superbolide. A relatively small
percentage of fireballs hit Earth's atmosphere and then pass out
again: these are termed Earth-grazing fireballs. Such an event
happened in broad daylight over North America in 1972. Another rare
phenomena is a meteor procession, where the meteor breaks up into
several fireballs traveling nearly parallel to the surface of Earth.
A steadily growing number of fireballs are recorded at the American
Meteor Society every year. There are probably more than 500,000
fireballs a year, but most will go unnoticed because most will
occur over the ocean and half will occur during daytime.
Fireball Sightings reported to the American Meteor Society 
Effect on atmosphere
Ionization trail" and "Dark flight (astronomy)" redirect here. For
the movie, see Dark Flight.
Ionization trail of a
Perseid meteor seen against the constellation
Corona Borealis with its ring of stars
The entry of meteoroids into Earth's atmosphere produces three main
effects: ionization of atmospheric molecules, dust that the meteoroid
sheds, and the sound of passage. During the entry of a meteoroid or
asteroid into the upper atmosphere, an ionization trail is created,
where the air molecules are ionized by the passage of the meteor. Such
ionization trails can last up to 45 minutes at a time.
Small, sand-grain sized meteoroids are entering the atmosphere
constantly, essentially every few seconds in any given region of the
atmosphere, and thus ionization trails can be found in the upper
atmosphere more or less continuously. When radio waves are bounced off
these trails, it is called meteor burst communications. Meteor radars
can measure atmospheric density and winds by measuring the decay rate
Doppler shift of a meteor trail. Most meteoroids burn up when they
enter the atmosphere. The left-over debris is called meteoric dust or
just meteor dust. Meteor dust particles can persist in the atmosphere
for up to several months. These particles might affect climate, both
by scattering electromagnetic radiation and by catalyzing chemical
reactions in the upper atmosphere. Meteoroids or their fragments
may achieve dark flight after deceleration to terminal velocity.
Dark flight starts when they decelerate to about 2–4 km/s
(4,500–8,900 mph). Larger fragments will fall further down
the strewn field.
A meteor of the Leonid meteor shower, the photograph shows the meteor,
afterglow, and wake as distinct components
The visible light produced by a meteor may take on various hues,
depending on the chemical composition of the meteoroid, and the speed
of its movement through the atmosphere. As layers of the meteoroid
abrade and ionize, the colour of the light emitted may change
according to the layering of minerals. Colours of meteors depend on
the relative influence of the metallic content of the meteoroid versus
the superheated air plasma, which its passage engenders:
Red (atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen)
Sound generated by a meteor in the upper atmosphere, such as a sonic
boom, typically arrives many seconds after the visual light from a
meteor disappears. Occasionally, as with the
Leonid meteor shower
Leonid meteor shower of
2001,"crackling", "swishing", or "hissing" sounds have been
reported, occurring at the same instant as a meteor flare. Similar
sounds have also been reported during intense displays of Earth's
Theories on the generation of these sounds may partially explain them.
For example, scientists at
NASA suggested that the turbulent ionized
wake of a meteor interacts with Earth's magnetic field, generating
pulses of radio waves. As the trail dissipates, megawatts of
electromagnetic power could be released, with a peak in the power
spectrum at audio frequencies. Physical vibrations induced by the
electromagnetic impulses would then be heard if they are powerful
enough to make grasses, plants, eyeglass frames, and other conductive
materials vibrate. This proposed mechanism, although
proven to be plausible by laboratory work, remains unsupported by
corresponding measurements in the field. Sound recordings made under
controlled conditions in Mongolia in 1998 support the contention that
the sounds are real. (Also see Bolide.)
Meteor shower and List of meteor showers
Multiple meteors photographed over an extended exposure time during a
Meteor shower on chart
A meteor shower is the result of an interaction between a planet, such
as Earth, and streams of debris from a comet or other source. The
Earth through cosmic debris from comets and other sources
is a recurring event in many cases. Comets can produce debris by water
vapor drag, as demonstrated by
Fred Whipple in 1951, and by
breakup. Each time a comet swings by the
Sun in its orbit, some of its
ice vaporizes and a certain amount of meteoroids will be shed. The
meteoroids spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a
meteoroid stream, also known as a "dust trail" (as opposed to a
comet's "dust tail" caused by the very small particles that are
quickly blown away by solar radiation pressure).
The frequency of fireball sightings increases by about 10-30% during
the weeks of vernal equinox. Even meteorite falls are more common
during the northern hemisphere's spring season. Although this
phenomenon has been known for quite some time, the reason behind the
anomaly is not fully understood by scientists. Some researchers
attribute this to an intrinsic variation in the meteoroid population
along Earth's orbit, with a peak in big fireball-producing debris
around spring and early summer. Others have pointed out that during
this period the ecliptic is (in the northern hemisphere) high in the
sky in the late afternoon and early evening. This means that fireball
radiants with an asteroidal source are high in the sky (facilitating
relatively high rates) at the moment the meteoroids "catch up" with
Earth, coming from behind going in the same direction as Earth. This
causes relatively low relative speeds and from this low entry speeds,
which facilitates survival of meteorites. It also generates high
fireball rates in the early evening, increasing chances of eye witness
reports. This explains a part, but perhaps not all of the seasonal
variation. Research is in progress for mapping the orbits of the
meteors to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon.
Near-Earth object § Notable objects
1992—Peekskill, New York
Meteorite was filmed on October 9, 1992 by at least
16 independent videographers. Eyewitness accounts indicate the
fireball entry of the Peekskill meteorite started over West Virginia
at 23:48 UT (±1 min). The fireball, which traveled in a
northeasterly direction, had a pronounced greenish colour, and
attained an estimated peak visual magnitude of −13. During a
luminous flight time that exceeded 40 seconds the fireball covered a
ground path of some 700 to 800 km. One meteorite recovered at
Peekskill, New York, for which the event and object gained their name,
had a mass of 12.4 kg (27 lb) and was subsequently
identified as an H6 monomict breccia meteorite. The video record
suggests that the Peekskill meteorite had several companions over a
wide area. The companions are unlikely to be recovered in the hilly,
wooded terrain in the vicinity of Peekskill.
A large fireball was observed in the skies near Bone, Indonesia on
October 8, 2009. This was thought to be caused by an asteroid
approximately 10 meters in diameter. The fireball contained an
estimated energy of 50 kilotons of TNT, or about twice the Nagasaki
atomic bomb. No injuries were reported.
A large bolide was reported on 18 November 2009 over southeastern
California, northern Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado. At
00:07 local time a security camera at the high altitude W. L. Eccles
Observatory (2930 m above sea level) recorded a movie of the passage
of the object to the north. Of particular note in this video
is the spherical "ghost" image slightly trailing the main object (this
is likely a lens reflection of the intense fireball), and the bright
fireball explosion associated with the breakup of a substantial
fraction of the object. An object trail can be seen to continue
northward after the bright fireball event. The shock from the final
breakup triggered seven seismological stations in northern Utah; a
timing fit to the seismic data yielded a terminal location of the
object at 40.286 N, -113.191 W, altitude 27 km.
This is above the Dugway Proving Grounds, a closed Army testing base.
2013—Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia
Chelyabinsk meteor was an extremely bright, exploding fireball,
known as superbolide, measuring about 17 to 20 meters across, with an
estimated initial mass of 11,000 tonnes, as the relatively small
asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere. It was the largest known
natural object to have entered Earth's atmosphere since the Tunguska
event in 1908. Over 1,500 people were injured mostly by glass from
shattered windows caused by the air burst approximately 25 to
30 km above the environs of Chelyabinsk, Russia on 15 February
2013. An increasingly bright streak was observed during morning
daylight with a large contrail lingering behind. At no less than 1
minute and up to at least 3 minutes after the object peaked in
intensity (depending on distance from trail), a large concussive blast
was heard that shattered windows and set-off car alarms, which was
followed by a number of smaller explosions.
Gallery of meteors
Sporadic bolide over the desert of Central Australia and a Lyrid (top
Meteor (center) seen from the International Space Station
Possible meteor (center) photographed from Mars, March 7, 2004, by MER
Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 colliding with Jupiter: The sequence shows
fragment W turning into a fireball on the planet's dark side
Main article: Meteorite
Murnpeowie meteorite, an iron meteorite with regmaglypts resembling
thumbprints (Australia, 1910)
A meteorite is a portion of a meteoroid or asteroid that survives its
passage through the atmosphere and hits the ground without being
destroyed. Meteorites are sometimes, but not always, found in
association with hypervelocity impact craters; during energetic
collisions, the entire impactor may be vaporized, leaving no
meteorites. Geologists use the term, "bolide", in a different sense
from astronomers to indicate a very large impactor. For example, the
USGS uses the term to mean a generic large crater-forming projectile
in a manner "to imply that we do not know the precise nature of the
impacting body ... whether it is a rocky or metallic asteroid, or an
icy comet for example".
Meteoroids also hit other bodies in the solar system. On such stony
bodies as the
Mars that have little or no atmosphere, they
leave enduring craters.
Frequency of impacts
Earth collision probability with near-
The diameter of the largest impactor to hit
Earth on any given day is
likely to be about 40 centimeters (16 inches), in a given year about 4
meters, and in a given century about 20 meters. These statistics are
obtained by the following:
Over at least the range from 5 centimeters (2.0 inches) to roughly 300
meters (980 feet), the rate at which
Earth receives meteors obeys a
power-law distribution as follows:
displaystyle N(>D)=37D^ -2.7
where N (>D) is the expected number of objects larger than a
diameter of D meters to hit
Earth in a year. This is based on
observations of bright meteors seen from the ground and space,
combined with surveys of near-
Earth asteroids. Above 300 meters in
diameter, the predicted rate is somewhat higher, with a two-kilometer
asteroid (one million-megaton TNT equivalent) every couple of million
years — about 10 times as often as the power-law extrapolation would
Main article: Impact crater
Meteoroid collisions with solid
Solar System objects, including the
Moon, Mercury, Callisto, Ganymede, and most small moons and asteroids,
create impact craters, which are the dominant geographic features of
many of those objects. On other planets and moons with active surface
geological processes, such as Earth, Venus, Mars, Europa, Io, and
Titan, visible impact craters may become eroded, buried, or
transformed by tectonics over time. In early literature, before the
significance of impact cratering was widely recognised, the terms
cryptoexplosion or cryptovolcanic structure were often used to
describe what are now recognised as impact-related features on
Earth. Molten terrestrial material ejected from a meteorite impact
crater can cool and solidify into an object known as a tektite. These
are often mistaken for meteorites.
Gallery of meteorites
Two tektites, molten terrestrial ejecta from a meteorite impact
A partial slice of the Esquel pallasite
Willamette Meteorite, from Oregon, USA
Meteorite, which fell in
Wisconsin in 1868
Marília Meteorite, a chondrite H4, which fell in Marília, Brazil
Children posing behind the Tucson
Meteorite at the Arizona Museum of
Meteorite with brecciation and carbon inclusions from Tindouf,
Glossary of meteoritics
Relating to meteoroids
Relating to meteors
American Meteor Society
Desert Fireball Network
International Meteor Organization
List of meteor air bursts
List of meteor showers
North American Meteor Network
Tollmann's hypothetical bolide
Relating to meteorites
Baetylus—Sacred stones made from meteorites
Interplanetary dust cloud § Collecting interplanetary dust on
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A History of Meteors and Other Atmospheric Phenomena
American Meteor Society
British Astronomical Society meteor page
International Meteor Organization
Live Meteor Screen
Meteoroids Page at NASA's
Solar System Exploration
Meteor shower predictions
Meteor Showers and Viewing Tips
Society for Popular
Astronomy - Meteor Section
Asteroid Hazards, Part 2: The Challenge of
YouTube (min. 7:14)
Solar System bodies
Meanings of names
Distant minor planet
The Solar System
S/2015 (136472) 1
Solar System objects
By discovery date
Gravitationally rounded objects
Possible dwarf planets
first discovered: Ceres
Planets beyond Neptune
List of crewed spacecraft
List of probes
Outline of the Solar System
Solar System → Local Interstellar Cloud → Local
Bubble → Gould Belt → Orion Arm → Milky
Milky Way subgroup → Local Group → Virgo
Supercluster → Laniakea Supercluster → Observable
universe → Universe
Each arrow (→) may be read as "within" or "part of".
Modern impact events
1783 Great Meteor
1860 Great Meteor
1913 Great Meteor Procession
1930 Curuçá River
1938 Chicora meteor
1947 Sikhote-Alin meteorite
1969 Murchison meteorite
1972 Great Daylight Fireball
1990 Earth-grazing meteoroid
2002 Eastern Mediterranean
2008 TC3 impact
2009 Sulawesi superbolide
2012 Sutter's Mill meteorite
2012 UK meteoroid
2012 Novato meteorite
2013 Chelyabinsk meteor
2014 AA impact
2014 Ontario fireball
2015 Kerala meteorite
2015 Thailand bolide
2017 China bolide
Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9
Asteroid close approaches to Earth
Meteor air bursts
crossing Earth's orbit
Asteroid impact avoidance
Potentially hazardous object
List of meteor air bursts
Potentially hazardous object
Asteroid impact avoidance
Asteroid close approaches
Earth-crossing minor planets
Ion Beam Shepherd
Catalina Sky Survey
Sentinel Space Telescope
Space Situational Awareness Programme
Planetary Defense Coordination Office
(410777) 2009 FD
Films / video
The End of the World (1916)
When Worlds Collide (1951)
The Green Slime
The Green Slime (1968)
The Paradise Syndrome
The Paradise Syndrome (1968)
A Fire in the Sky
A Fire in the Sky (1978)
Deep Impact (1998)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Judgment Day (1999)
Post Impact (2004)
Deadly Skies (2006)
Super Comet: After the Impact (2007)
NOVA: Last Extinction (2009)
Meteor Storm (2010)
HORIZON: Asteroids–The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (2010)
NOVA: Meteor Strike (2013)
NOVA: Asteroid: Doomsday or Payday? (2013)