Fireball in night sky likely to have been space junk

2 months ago 27
Media caption,

Members of the public captured the fireball shooting across the sky above Scotland

Hundreds of people have reported seeing a "shooting star" across the sky over Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The UK Meteor Network said it began receiving reports of the fireball at 22:00 on Wednesday evening.

Scientists are using video footage captured by the public to work out whether the object travelling across the night sky was a meteor or space junk, and where it came from.

It is thought it would have landed in the sea south of the Hebrides.

Space rock that enters Earth's atmosphere is called a meteor, but fragments that survive the burning journey to reach the ground are called meteorites.

UK Meteor Network said it was "investigating to ascertain what the object was, meteor or space debris", adding that most of the reports it had received were from Scotland and Northern Ireland, although it was also spotted in England.

It described the event as a "slow-moving meteor lasting 20 or so seconds".

Kevin Morgan, from the network of citizen scientists, told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland said the speed it was travelling at could indicate that it was space junk such as a satellite part.

"It is no less exciting and really encouraging that so many people have reported and shared images that they have."

There have been nearly 800 reports of the fireball that was seen over UK last night. The preliminary trajectory has been calculated by the IMO and indicates that the object, which we now believe to be space debris, would have landed in the Atlantic south of the Hebrides.

— UK Meteor Network (@UKMeteorNetwork) September 15, 2022

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The International Meteor Organization had almost 800 witness reports from across the UK and Ireland. The majority were from Central Scotland but there were also sightings from the Black Isle and Kinnaber in the east, near Montrose and as far south as London.

Initial calculations showed the object was travelling NNE and could have landed in the Atlantic Ocean "south of the Hebrides".

Steve Owens, astronomer and science communicator at the Glasgow Science Centre, said the sighting was "incredible".

"I was sitting in my living room at exactly 22:00 and I saw out of the widow due south this brilliant fireball - this meteor - streaking across the sky," he said.

"I could tell it was something special. I could see through broken cloud that it was fragmenting - breaking apart with little bits coming off it.

"Normally if you see a meteor or a shooting star, they are just tiny little streaks of light lasting a fraction of a second but this one was streaking across the sky for at least 10 seconds, probably longer.

Image source, UK Meteor Network

"It travelled from due south all the way across to the west. It was a pretty incredible sight."

He said it was unlikely, but not impossible, that it would have reached the ground, and may have reached the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr Owens said: "Normally these little shooting stars burn up and everything vanishes and evaporates in the atmosphere, but the thing last night was bigger than a little bit of dust which causes normal shooting stars.

"The one last night might have been the size of a golf ball or maybe a cricket ball, maybe even bigger than that.

"It is highly unlikely it fell anywhere in Scotland but if you are looking for a bit of space debris - a meteorite as it's known - you are looking for a magnetic object, something that looks like a rock but is magnetic."

James Williams saw it from his front garden in the southside of Glasgow and managed to record it on his mobile and his doorbell camera. He described it as being "all different colours like a firework but silent".

Danny Nell, 21, was walking his dog in Johnstone, just west of Paisley and Glasgow, when he saw the fireball.

"I was walking my dog and it was strangely enough 10pm on the dot and I just saw the flash in the sky and pulled out my phone and recorded it," he told the PA news agency.

"I thought it may be a firework at first because there was a lot of Scottish football on but quickly realised it wasn't and just grabbed my phone to see if I could catch it."

'Wonderful, beautiful thing'

Dr Aine O'Brien, from the University of Glasgow and the UK Fireball Alliance, urged people to report their sightings on their website.

She said: "At this point we don't know if what we saw last night was a meteor - it probably was, but the other option is that it could have been a bit of space junk.

"We'll know in the next few hours. Hopefully it was a meteorite and given how long it went for, maybe we've got the first Scottish meteorite in over 100 years."

Scientists will use the videos of the fireball to triangulate where it came from and track where it would have landed if it didn't burn up in the atmosphere, Dr O'Brien said.

She said it was not something to worry about.

"It's just a wonderful, beautiful thing. We getting shooting stars, meteors all the time."

She said it was just "lucky" that the weather conditions and the timing of the fireball meant many people could see it and record it.

Dr Marc Sarzi, head of research at the Armagh Planetarium, said the fireball was a "very spectacular one" but he did not think it was a "major event".

He said meteor showers made of little particles left behind by comets normally occur over the summer

If this fireball was caused by a meteor, it "would probably leave behind a nice piece of asteroid," he said.

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