Australians were treated to quite the light show Thursday night as a massive fireball shot across the sky over Victoria and New South Wales. Reports of the fireball being visible over Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland were also made.
Some of the witnesses at first believed the massive fireball in the sky to be a shooting star or perhaps a burning plane. Officials throughout the area received numerous reports concerning the massive fireball over the next few hours, and Twitter users went crazy spreading the word.
Professor Brian Schmidt, an astronomer at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University, told excited Twitter users the fireball was likely space junk, pointing to a “decay prediction” map he had sourced.
Dr. Nick Lomb, curator of astronomy at the Sydney Observatory, also believed the fireball was space junk because it was traveling slower through the sky than the escape velocity from Earth. He said, “Some people saw it for 10 seconds or more, which is a very long time for a piece of rock from space.”
Speculation was put to rest by the following morning when it was revealed the massive fireball was actually an ejected piece of a Russian rocket they’d used to launch a weather satellite a couple days earlier. NASA had issued an alert on Thursday saying a 7 meter, 3 ton cylindrical object was expected to plunge to Earth over the Victorias and Tasmanias skyline, according to Schmidt.
The fireball was the “third-stage” of a Soyuz rocket used on July 8 to launch Russia’s second Meteor-M weather satellites. It is believed the main part of it, which disintegrated on the way down, probably landed in the ocean near Brisbane. Recently, the European Space Agency held talks about harpooning space junk, as described by this article from The Inquisitr. But it’s doubtful that this piece of debris, which wasn’t there for long, would have been a candidate for such an operation.