Skip to main content

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? pic.twitter.com/bEBNvsuA4i

— 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 pic.twitter.com/GnV70S13B8

— 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.

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
How to watch Virgin Galactic’s first commercial rocket flight on Thursday
VSS Unity during a test flight to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic: Meet the Galactic 01 Crew

After years of testing its rocket-powered plane, Virgin Galactic is finally ready to launch its first commercial flight on Thursday, June 29.

Read more
How to watch two U.S. astronauts on a spacewalk on Thursday
Expedition 65 flight engineer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov, pictured during a spacewalk to perform work on the Pirs docking compartment.

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV

UPDATE: Wednesday's spacewalk was postponed after orbital debris was spotted close to the station. A new date for the walk has been set for Thursday, December 22. Details below.

Read more
How to watch the Geminids Meteor shower this month
Over 100 meteors are recorded in this composite image taken during the peak of the Geminid meteor shower in 2014.

One of the great meteor showers of the year, the Geminids, will be visible in December. Here's how to catch this beautiful sight.
What to expect from the Geminids Meteor shower
Over 100 meteors are recorded in this composite image taken during the peak of the Geminid meteor shower in 2014. Jacobs Space Exploration Group/ESSCA

Meteor showers happen when the Earth passes through patches of debris left by asteroids or comets. As the Earth completes one orbit in a year, these meteor showers are yearly events, as the Earth passes through the same patch of debris at the same time each year. The debris burns up in the atmosphere, making visible trails of light across the sky. The Geminid shower is the result of an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon, discovered in 1983.

Read more