Hundreds spot fireball shooting across night sky

2 months ago 29

Fireball seen over SaltcoatsImage source, Mark Rae

Image caption,

Mark Rae filmed the fireball shooting across the sky from his home in Saltcoats

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 Thursday 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 not yet known if it landed or burnt up in the atmosphere.

Space debris 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 the north east of England.

Steve Owens, astronomer and science communicator at the Glasgow Science Centre, told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland 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 ten seconds probably longer.

"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.

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