A dying satellite, not a UFO or meteor, likely caused a fireball in the Midwest

Something crossed the night skies of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana on Wednesday before dawn. The fireball burned in hues of green, gold an...


Something crossed the night skies of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana on Wednesday before dawn. The fireball burned in hues of green, gold and pink, leaving a luminous trail in its wake. It spent about two minutes shattering into small pieces as it descended from orbit before crossing the border into the United States and Canada, somewhere over the Great Lakes.

“I saw it cross the sky,” said Stephanie Neal, a resident of Williamsburg, Ohio, who saw the object. “He had no tail first, then a tail, then no tail.”

Holly Wood was taking her dog for a late walk in the suburbs of Cincinnati when she saw the object on fire.

“For a split second I was like, am I watching a plane crash? Then I thought there was no way – none of it made sense, ”said Ms. Wood, who, like Ms. Neal, reported the sighting to the American Meteor Society, which maintains a helpline for those who spot fireballs in the sky.

“This thing was so bright and so big, and it was so much slower than a meteor,” she added.

It was not a unexplained aerial phenomenon, as the Pentagon describes UFOs these days. It wasn’t even a meteor from the Orionid shower, which peaked early Thursday morning.

Instead, it was likely a recently launched Russian military satellite that showed signs of failure, orbital trackers said, before plunging into Earth’s atmosphere and igniting.

The classified Russian spacecraft, identified by a US Space Command database as COSMOS 2551, was launched on September 9 from the Russian Plesetsk Cosmodrome, about 500 miles north of Moscow.

Few details of the satellite were recognized by the Russian military, but it was heading in an orbital path above the Earth’s poles. The Russian Defense Ministry said the launch and deployment of the satellite was successful.

But almost immediately after reaching space, satellite trackers noticed a gradual descent in the spacecraft’s altitude.

“99% sure it was a failure,” said Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer who tracks orbiting objects and closely monitors the Russian satellite.

The satellite likely burned in the atmosphere without making landfall, Dr McDowell said.

“Russian satellite re-entries over the United States do happen every now and then – maybe a few times over the past five years or so, off the top of my head. “

The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Sky watchers have witnessed other major uncontrolled re-entries of ancient or stray spacecraft this year. Sometimes objects associated with launches survive return to the surface, such as a pressurized container of part of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket that crashed in a man’s farm in Washington in April. Then in May, large pieces of debris from a Chinese rocket splashed in the waters off the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

It was not known where exactly the pieces of the Chinese rocket, a Long March 5B, would enter Earth’s atmosphere. This renewed uncertainty calls for more specific international rules governing space activities. NASA administrator Bill Nelson criticized China at the time, saying Beijing “was not meeting accountability standards for their space debris.”

While a 1972 United Nations treaty made nations liable for damage caused by objects launched from their territories, there are few international rules limiting conditions in space that could create damage, such as a dead spacecraft that falls back into the atmosphere. In recent years, U.S. officials have called for new rules of the road to accommodate an increasingly busy orbital highway as many companies, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, aim to send thousands of internet satellites in low earth orbit.

“The more it goes up, the more it goes down,” said Mike Hankey, an amateur meteor hunter who maintains the American Meteor Society’s fireball database, of recent cases of space debris causing fireworks displays in the sky. “It’s not really my favorite thing to work on, but it happens a lot more and the system can keep up with it.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: A dying satellite, not a UFO or meteor, likely caused a fireball in the Midwest
A dying satellite, not a UFO or meteor, likely caused a fireball in the Midwest
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