According to the astronomers who examined it, a fireball seen over Scotland and Northern Ireland is no longer believed to be space junk from Elon Musk’s satellite program.
The UK Meteor Network said the fireball was visible for 20 seconds right after 10pm Wednesday night. It has received nearly 800 reports from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England.
The videos appeared to show an object breaking in the night sky as it headed northwest. One showed it on Paisley, west of Glasgow.
On Thursday afternoon the UK Meteor Network, which tracked the fireball crossing the west coast of Scotland, tweeted: “We have verified Starlink’s deorbit and it would not come anywhere near the UK. At this point we are unable to find any known deorbid space junk or satellite that could explain this fireball. We are looking at the data again. “
The network added that the UK Fireball Alliance was also looking into the event.
John Maclean, an astronomer on the network, had previously stated that it was likely to be space junk because it was traveling too slowly to be a meteor. He said the most likely cause was a Starlink satellite from Musk’s SpaceX company.
Thousands of Starlink satellites, designed to disintegrate upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, have been launched by Musk’s company to provide an Internet connection.
Maclean said, “Most meteors enter the atmosphere between 75,000 and 80,000 mph. Whereas space junk is slower at 25,000-30,000 mph. As a result, space junk is visible in the sky much longer. meteor would be a matter of seconds, while it was visible for 20 seconds, it is too slow for the meteor.
He added: “If you look at the videos, the way it breaks is more consistent with a piece of space debris. Meteors break apart as they pass through the atmosphere, but usually towards the end of their trajectory. This was breaking much higher. “
Maclean, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: “Sometimes there are satellites or debris from a space launch that we are not aware of, especially from China.”
Maclean said the Starlink satellites “de-orbit quite regularly, because they have a limited lifespan in space… We expect over 40,000 satellites in the next few years. Soon one in five objects you see in the night sky could become a satellite, which will cause big problems for astronomers ”.
At 2.8 meters long, the space junk from the Starlink satellites is too small to be dangerous because it burns in the atmosphere, Maclean said. But the trash is likely to lead to more fireball sightings. He said, “I’d definitely think we’re likely to see more of these fireballs given the number of satellites Musk and others, including Amazon, are mounting.”
A Twitter user filmed what he thought was a “shooting star” over the town of Larbert, between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Steve Owens, an astronomer and science writer at the Glasgow Science Center, said it was a “brilliant fireball”.
Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, he said: “It was amazing, I was sitting in my living room at exactly 10 last night and I saw this bright fireball out the south window, this meteor darting through the sky, and I could tell that it was something special because I could see through the broken cloud: it was not perfectly visible, I could see that it was fragmenting, breaking, there were small fragments coming out of it.
Danny Nell, 21, was walking his dog in Johnstone, just west of Paisley and Glasgow, when he saw the fireball.
Speaking to PA Media he said: “I was walking my dog and it was oddly 10pm sharp and I just saw the lightning in the sky, I took out my phone and recorded it. At first I thought it might be a firework because there was a lot of Scottish football, but I quickly realized it wasn’t and I just picked up my phone to see if I could get it. “