Space Debris Reentry Over Western USA

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The American Meteor Society received over 195 reports from western states last night (February, 23th 2015) about a slow moving grouping of fireballs traveling from the south east to the north west. Witness reports indicate, the object travelled over a 1,000 mile distance and was seen from as far south as Arizona and as far north as Alberta CA. The phenomenon was seen from Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Nevada, California, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Alberta and British Columbia on Tuesday, February 24th 2015 around 11:00 PM Mountain time.

Diane Haskins from Noxon, Montana described it as, “a streak of between 30-40 lights that were in a group going from the southeast to the northwest. It appeared that something was breaking apart since all the streaks of light traveled in teh same direction. Some of the lights dimmed out as they streaked across the sky.

This description is typical for what a space debris reentry would look like. As the space junk breaks apart in the atmosphere each nut, bolt or fragment of glass or metal will create a mini fireball. These objects generally travel much slower than fireballs and cover wider distances. Most of the witnesses reported the event lasting up to 45 seconds, where as a normal fireball would last 3-5 seconds. The long duration time, witness descriptions and long distance of travel suggest this object was some type of space trash.

Shortly after this post was initially published, NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office at JSC identified this object as the reentry of a Chinese rocket body (NORAD ID 40363).

Below are videos of the event shared by Youtube users

Below is a video of the object reentry caught by a Multiple Mirror telescope Observatory (MMTO) of the Meteoroid Environments Office (NASA) near Tucson. It emphasizes how slow this object was compared to a meteor. (© Bill Cooke, Meteoroid Environments Office, EV44, Marshall Space Flight Center.)

Neil Zeller, a professional photographer was lucky enough to take this amazing picture of the event (more info here) – thanks @Mike Dickson:

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AMS Event #451-2015 – February 23, 2015 11:00 PM MST – Picture by Neil Zeller ©

Below is a heat map of the witness sightings.

451-2015

AMS Event #451-2015 – February 23, 2015 11:00 PM MST – Heat map

Below is a map of the witness sightings, the green lines indicate where the witness first saw the object and the red lines show where they last saw it.

AMS Event #451-2015 – February 23, 2015 11:00 PM MST - Reports

AMS Event #451-2015 – February 23, 2015 11:00 PM MST – Reports

Computing and averaging all of the witness reports yields the following trajectory.

AMS Event #451-2015 – February 23, 2015- Heat map

AMS Event #451-2015 – February 23, 2015 11:00 PM MST – Trajectory

If you witnessed this event, please fill out an official fireball report.

18 comments

  • carson 2 years ago

    It lasted 3-4 min and went over the Grand Teton traveling south to north with big fireballs behind it.

    Reply to carson
  • Heather 2 years ago

    Saw this last night on my way home from school. We were almost to Dayton, Nevada when we saw it, and wow, what a sight!

    Reply to Heather
  • Michael 2 years ago

    Saw this last night in Calgary, Alberta. Just stepped outside and it was already broken up into a couple dozen pieces. I was still able to watch it for a good 45 or 50 seconds before the final piece burnt out. It finished a little North of me, so pretty northern, as compared to where it started.

    Reply to Michael
  • Kaz 2 years ago

    We watched the fireball with a long tail and pieces breaking off from our front porch in the south end of Cache Valley, UT. It came from the direction of Ogden, UT. From our vantage point (a mountain bench facing west) in Paradise, UT we were able to watch it fly north past the moon until it disappeared behind mountains north of Preston, ID. What an incredible sight!

    Reply to Kaz
  • connie and greg 2 years ago

    I was sitting in my hot tub facing south.. when) I saw a light that looked like maybe a helicopter with a spotlight. we watched it come in from the south of Gooding idaho. as it traveled north the tail got longer and brighter… oh man what a sight to see… almost like hitting the lottery, a friend said to me .

    Reply to connie
  • ashley thom 2 years ago

    It was beautiful,this picture doesn’t do it justice how do I post the picture

    Reply to ashley
  • Pam 2 years ago

    I witnessed a bright light falling from the sky tonight Feb 24th at 7:40pm while driving west on a road through Syracuse NY. The light, first thought to be from an airplane, was spotted west to south west before it dropped to the horizon.

    Reply to Pam
  • M Taylor 2 years ago

    We saw this last night from Sagle Idaho. It was long and filled with many pieces. It moved so slowly, like a train going from south to north across the sky at about 9:55pm. It appeared to be two sections each filled with large bright glowing pieces. The front section has brighter, larger, and more pieces. Back section not as bright, smaller pieces but still bright.

    Reply to M
  • Lin 2 years ago

    I live in Hawaii and I saw a streak of light from the sky going downwards. I was looking westward when I saw this.

    Reply to Lin
  • G. D. McFetridge 2 years ago

    I had decided to sleep out on my large second-story wooden deck with my dog Mr. Fox. I’m guessing I curled up on the deck couch under my sleeping bag at around 10:15. I may have drifted off and then awoken a bit later, I don’t recall precisely, but what I do remember vividly is noticing this really bright light coming in from the southeast. My first thought, slightly clouded from sleepiness, was that it was a low-flying airliner headed to Missoula but it struck me as odd because it seemed too bright and too large. Then I noticed the vapor trail, which was long and illuminated and colored sort of apricot orange. My still clouded brain decided that the object was high enough such that it was catching sunlight from over the horizon … then, as I came more fully to an awakened state, I reminded myself that the sun had been down for hours. “Holy (you know what),” I mumbled. “They’ve started WW III and a missile has been launch from one of Montana’s silos!” Then the object began breaking apart, right above my house, little pieces cutting off at slight angles to the main fireball. That’s when I figured out that it was either a very slow moving meteor or space debris. At that same moment the fireball passed from view behind the roof line and I jumped from the patio couch to run to the north end of the large deck, to further watch this fantastic sight. Unfortunately, my foot caught on an object I’d forgotten was in my path and I did a header onto the deck, which knocked me for a loop. By the time I recovered, all that was left of the fireball was a distant streak of light passing from view. Them dang Chinese and their space debris! I have a lump on my forehead from where I planted my face on the deck! I wonder if they have liability insurance in China? I’m thinking of filing a claim!! G. D. McFetridge

    Reply to G.
    • Annie A 2 years ago

      LOL G.D!!! Sorry about your face plant but thanks for the giggle. This is the best account I’ve read by far! I saw it too traveling across the whole eastern sky. I had an awesome show because we live WAY out in dry land farm country on the edge of the Palouse. Super clear starry night and no ambient light from anywhere to dim our view. I was driving down to check on a premie calf in the pickup and saw it just as you described. I had time to pull over, find my camera, took 5 pictures and a video (got one shot that turned out blurry) then stood in the dark silence and watched it disappear towards Spokane with my jaw on the ground. I actually said out loud to the groundhogs and coyotes, “Uh…did anyone else just see that?!” And for all the night photo and dark sky settings my camera promises I thought for sure I’d capture a good shot of it with all the time I had. Nope! I got one blurred photo and a black screen video of me saying, “Holy _____!” It sure was an awesome sight.

      Reply to Annie
  • Heather 2 years ago

    We watched this and did file a report, but we were wondering if any of the rocket made it to the ground?

    Reply to Heather
    • amsadmin 2 years ago

      Heather and All,

      Since the velocity of re-entering space junk is much slower than meteors there is a good chance fragments of this rocket made it to the ground. Unfortunately the area in which it may have landed is probably remote and buried under snow. Something may turn up when the snow melts.

      Robert Lunsford

      Reply to amsadmin
  • Edwin 2 years ago

    I was on cardel for badminton and I went home, my sister saw it and I almost recorded it but my dad was too slow to get his phone and I only watched it for like 20 seconds IT WAS SO EXCITING it burned up right on front of us, there were like 20 seperated pieces and we saw it bright on the sky. This was seen from Calgary, Alberta.

    Reply to Edwin
  • John 2 years ago

    I saw something falling from the sky last night over temecula ca. It looked to be about 1 mile to the east at around 6:30 pm. it looked as if something made it though to the ground.

    Reply to John
  • brandon stream 2 years ago

    I just saw exactly what was described in this article at about 6 am March11, 2015 flying over denver heading west before disappearing behind the mountains. Very cool experience.

    Reply to brandon
  • paul niegisch 2 years ago

    On 3/11/15 casper wyoming at 6am a space debri from north east to south west very bright long sparkling tale then fizzled out to dull Orange glow southeast of casper Wyoming cool

    Reply to paul
  • Drake Tucker 2 years ago

    The time was around 10:50 pm. I was driving home SW on hwy 18. Directly in front and above came the brightest fire ball I’ve ever seen. It fell west to east blazing into two pieces and disappearing beneath the moon.

    Reply to Drake

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