There have been at least 198 reports of a fireball moving across the skies over Western U.S. “The fiery object was part of a Chinese rocket that was used to launch a satellite into space,” according to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office.
Was this an extraterrestrial anomaly or satellite in the western skies?
People could see it from Arizona to Canada. The easiest way to work out if it’s a meteorite or space junk is how fast it’s going and the duration of the event, said Seth Jarvis, director of Clark Planetarium. “The give away is that it was slow,” said Jarvis.
Those who witnessed the event saw the fireball travelling across the sky at a slow speed lasting up to 45 seconds, according to the American Meteor Society. Patrick Wiggins, NASA/JPL solar system ambassador to Utah, confirmed for KSL that the object was a rocket body used in the launch of Yaogan Weixing-26, a Chinese satellite that was launched in December 2014. Wiggins said the rocket body was about 149 kilometers above Earth as it went over Utah.
“It’s doing 15,000 mph. At that speed, the air piles up in front of it, compresses, and the temperature gets up into the thousands of degrees,” he said. “It’s just like a blowtorch being taken to this thing, and it just vaporizers above the sky,” Reported KSL.
The European Space Agency estimates the total number of space debris objects in Earth’s orbit would be in the order of:
- 29,000 for sizes larger than 10 cm
- 670,000 for sizes larger than 1 cm
- More than 170 million for sizes larger than 1 mm
Watch the space junk fireball as it breaks up:
These objects can cause harm to a spacecraft. For example, a collision with a 10-cm object would entail a catastrophic fragmentation of a typical satellite, a 1-cm object would most likely disable a spacecraft and penetrate the ISS shields, and a 1-mm object could destroy sub-systems on board a spacecraft. Scientists generally agree that, for typical satellites, a collision with an energy to mass ratio exceeding 40 J/g would be catastrophic, reports the European Space Agency (ESA).
The ESA is currently looking for companies that would be interested in developing a pioneering mission to retrieve and dispose of dead satellites. Better late than never, I guess.