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.)
Below is a heat map of the witness sightings.
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.
Computing and averaging all of the witness reports yields the following trajectory.
If you witnessed this event, please fill out an official fireball report.