Last night’s fireball that shot over eastern Australia is believed to be from a Russian satellite launch earlier in the week.
Astronomer Dr Alan Duffy of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne said the parts were from a Russian Soyuz craft falling back to Earth after having delivered a satellite to orbit.
The Soyuz 2-1B rocket launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Tuesday and was carrying a weather satellite.
“Initially I thought it was a small pebble sized asteroid as it was only above Melbourne. By the minute more sightings came in of a blazing trail heading north over NSW, ACT with even QLD reporting it, making clear it was a big object to be burning up for so long,” Dr Duffy said.
“Material is always falling into the earth’s atmosphere in the form of shooting starts,” he told Business Insider. “This is more unusual because it was so bright.” Duffy said the sheer size of the object, weighing over two tonnes, “makes for a spectacular fireball as it heats up through the earth’s atmosphere.”
According to Duffy it was the third stage of the Soyuz which once it released the satellite became expendable and simply tumbled to earth.
Asked if the junk was dangerous to people Duffy said: “The chances of it landing and hitting anyone is tiny.” The stronger bits of metal like the engine could potential make contact with earth, and while in some cases it is never found, he warned farmers in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland “to watch out for a lump of metal in their fields when ploughing.”
“Australia catches more than its fair share of space junk,” Duffy said, recalling the “Skylab” which landed in Western Australia in 1979 and was turned in local landmark.
The Skylab crash put Esperance on the map. The town even had light hearted dig at NASA for scatter space junk over the town, sending them a $400 fine for littering – which they never paid.
Duffy said he would love to see an enterprising soul make use of it in a similar way.
Here is the actual part of the Soyuz craft pre-launch.
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) July 10, 2014