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Meteor Network solves Thursday’s fireball mystery

A meteorite streaks across the sky over the U.K. in September 2022.
Paul M/IMO

Folks in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland were treated to an unexpected light show on Wednesday evening when a mysterious object streaked across the night sky for nearly half a minute.

Many who caught the spectacle on camera quickly shared the footage on social media, with the footage clearly showing a bright light flying overhead.

Fireball spotted crossing the night sky in Scotland and Northern Ireland

The U.K. Meteor Network received reports from hundreds of people who had spotted the mysterious object. After analyzing numerous videos and taking a look at the available data, the Meteor Network initially concluded that the streak of light was likely caused by space debris burning up as it entered Earth’s atmosphere at high speed.

Speculation centered on SpaceX, which was known to be de-orbiting two of its Starlink satellites at around that time.

Hey @elonmusk is this one of yours?

— UK Meteor Network (@UKMeteorNetwork) September 15, 2022

But then the Meteor Network tweeted: “We have checked the Starlink de-orbit and it would not have come anywhere near the U.K. At this point we cannot find any known space junk or satellite de-orbit that could account for this fireball. We are looking at the data again.”

After conducting further analysis of the unusual event, and assisted by Canada-based meteor physics postdoctoral researcher Denis Vida,  the Meteor Network later confirmed that the bright object was a meteor after all, and not a piece of space junk.

“The final analysis is in!” the network said later on Wednesday. “The fireball over [Northern Ireland] and Scotland last night was definitely a meteor. The fireball observed yesterday (Sept 14, 20:59:40 UT) above the U.K. lasted over 20 seconds and traveled NW, passing directly over Belfast.”

OK. The final analysis is in! The fireball over NI and Scotland last night was definitely a meteor. The fireball observed yesterday (Sept 14, 20:59:40 UT) above the UK lasted over 20 seconds and traveled NW, passing directly over Belfast. 1/4

— UK Meteor Network (@UKMeteorNetwork) September 15, 2022

It suggested that any remains of the small rock likely ended up in the North Atlantic Ocean around 50-100 kilometers (31-62 miles) west of the Isle of Islay, in a spot some 192 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of Belfast.

“It came on an asteroidal orbit and entered the atmosphere at 14.2 kilometers per second [8.8 miles per second],” the Meteor Network confirmed.

“The observed portion of the trajectory covered over 300 km [186 miles],” it said, adding: “If any meteorites did fall, they ended up in the ocean.”

Events like this are usually nothing to worry about, with NASA, for example, far more focused on much larger asteroids that could cause problems for Earth in the future. With that in mind, the American space agency is currently conducting a fascinating mission that will test technology designed to defend our planet against hazardous space rocks.

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