If you live in the US Pacific Northwest, you may have seen a strange meteor flying through the sky on Thursday evening (March 25). But that wasn’t a chunk of asteroid or comet – it was likely SpaceX debris that fell and burned in Earth’s atmosphere, experts say.
On March 4, SpaceX launched a batch of 60 Starlink Internet satellites to orbit aboard a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket. Experts believe that the return of that rocket’s upper stage was what caused last night’s air show, which speckled the sky with bright glowing dots moving across the sky. Local reports pegged the event on Friday (March 26) just after midnight EDT (0400 GMT), or Thursday around 9:00 p.m. local time on the US West Coast.
Pending further confirmation of the details, here is the unofficial information we have so far. The widely reported bright objects in the sky were the debris from a Falcon 9 rocket 2nd stage that did not successfully deorbit combustion. , “the National Weather Service (NWS) Seattle tweetedThem added in a follow-up tweet that “there are NO expected effects on the ground in our region at this time.”
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Some people on social media have excitedly shared videos and photos from the event, referring to the falling debris as a possible meteor shower, “shooting star” or comet. Some have even cited alien activity as the cause, although no experts have validated that possibility.
I have NEVER seen a meteor shower like this! Freaky if you don’t know what it is 😲😬 @ fox12oregon @KATUNews pic.twitter.com/RwMGSf2IRjMarch 26, 2021
Experts are more likely to agree that this event was almost certainly caused by falling man-made debris.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer and satellite tracker at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the spots of light seen are falling SpaceX debris.
The Falcon 9’s second stage of the Starlink launch on March 4 failed to cause a deorbit combustion and is now returning to orbit after 22 days. Its return was observed from the Seattle area at approximately 0400 UTC on March 26. Pic.twitter.com/FQrBrUoBHhMarch 26, 2021
“The Falcon 9’s second stage of Starlink’s March 4 launch failed to burn a deorbit and is now returning to orbit after 22 days,” McDowell said. tweetedA deorbit burn occurs when a spacecraft fires its thrusters to slow down and begins to descend into destruction in Earth’s atmosphere.
The purpose of such burns is to quickly get rid of a piece of space hardware when the work is done, to keep it from becoming orbital debris.
McDowell also shared some “fun facts” about this type of waste incineration on Twitter, adding that debris is falling apart like we saw last night, happening about 40 miles (60 kilometers) above the ground, way above where planes fly.
He also noted that this is the 14th piece of space debris with a mass of more than a ton to enter Earth’s atmosphere so far this year, which equates to about one large piece of falling space debris per week.
Another fun fact: this is the 14th piece of space debris with a mass of more than a ton that has returned since January 1 of this year.March 26, 2021
The NWS in Seattle added on Twitter that this event was likely caused by the burning up of human-made objects in Earth’s atmosphere, as meteors or other natural objects would likely move much faster.
While human-made objects often orbit the Earth at speeds of about 17,500 mph (28,163 km / h), meteors can reach speeds above our atmosphere in excess of 45,000 mph (72,420 km / h), according to NWS Seattle
Email Chelsea Gohd at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.