Fireball Spotted Over Australia, Object Determined as Ejected Part of Russian Rocket Used in Launching a Weather Satellite

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By Jenalyn Villamarin | July 11, 2014 6:15 PM EST

On Thursday evening, July 10, a fireball that was spotted over Australia was explained to be an ejected part of a Russian rocket used to launch a weather satellite. It has been initially claimed that the object could be a meteorite but it turns out to be the third stage of the Soyuz rocket that launched Russia's second Meteor-M weather satellite on Tuesday, July 8.

In Melbourne and Sydney, witnesses described the object falling from the sky to be a "massive shooting star." Those who live in Tasmania and South Australia were also able to spot the fireball in the night sky.

The witnesses that spotted the bright object placed phone calls to talkback radio stations to report about seeing the fireball around 9:45 pm travelling east to north. Meanwhile, some of the callers claimed the object was a burning crashing plane.

A radio station 3AW listener named John shared that he was driving when he noticed the fireball in the sky. The witness pulled over and observed the impressive view. "It had the flame and the intense burn. Just as it was falling away it broke up. I'd say it was a little asteroid or a comet," John stated.

In the Universe Today report, citizen satellite tracker Ted Molczan noted that the appearance of the fireball and the timing points to the de-orbiting of the Russian rocket. The part of the Russian rocket that fell from the sky weighed about 4,400 pounds (2,000 kg) and the witnesses can notice how slow the object travelled as it burned on the way down.

Professor Brian Schmidt, astronomer at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University, revealed that NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) issued an alert on the cylindrical object plunging over Victoria and Tasmania last Thursday. "Orbits of these [pieces of space junk] is monitored quite closely. This one was decaying rapidly and the prediction of the path was confirmed, because everyone saw it," the professor stated in the Sydney Morning Herald report.  

However, Dr Nick Lomb, the curator of astronomy at the Sydney Observatory, claimed that the most important part of the object most likely plunged into the ocean close to Brisbane while Dr Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, argued that data from the Space-Track organization showed that the object re-entered over a path from southern NSW to southern Queensland. "Break-up is over NSW [near] Canberra but subset of densest debris, if any survives, might have made it to south Queensland," McDowell declared.

Dr Alan Duffy, a research associate at the Swinburne University of Technology, anticipates that there will be dozens of people searching for the rocket's debris with the size of a dinner plate in the areas of Cobar. However, Dr Duffy noted that the search will be a tough one.

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