A large and bright fireball was spotted heading over the skies of Victoria, Australia. However, the sighting piqued the interest of star gazers as it was not a typical shooting star.
When meteorites enter the atmosphere, they produce a bright but brief blast as the space rocks meet air resistance for the first time ever.
However, the fireball was slow moving, appearing in the skies for over 20 seconds, proving it was not a meteorite.
By doing some astronomical detective work, one astrophysicist was able to deduce that the fireball was actually caused by a piece of space junk re-entering the atmosphere.
Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Southern Queensland Jonti Horner told Australia’s ABC: “The slow speed, about 6 kilometres per second, is a very telltale sign that it is space junk.
“Astronomy is a detective story, it’s very cool, I love seeing things like this.”
Perry Vlahos from the Astronomical Society of Victoria agreed, stating: “Because of the slow speed and shallow angle, and the fact it is disintegrating in the video suggests it was something in orbit like a small satellite.
“It’s still considered space junk because it was in space, it’s re-entering the atmosphere and burning up.”
There is believed to be an astonishing 170 million pieces of junk floating in Earth’s upper atmosphere, but only 34,000 are being tracked.
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So a cataclysmic series of crashes could pose a threat to our already over-reliance for satellites.
ESA Director General Jan Wörner has said: “Imagine how dangerous sailing the high seas would be if all the ships ever lost in history were still drifting on top of the water.
“That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue. ESA’s Member States have given their strong support to this new mission, which also points the way forward to essential new commercial services in the future.”