'Fireball' dazzles Aussie sky watchers

Dazzled witnesses of a fireball hurtling across the East Australian night sky made phone calls to triple-0 as stargazers, astronomers and citizen scientists sought to confirm whether the object was a meteor or space junk.


The meteorite seen over Melbourne. Source: SBS

The scientific community is sounding concensus that the object was a Russian rocket re-entering the atmosphere after launching a Russian meteorology satellite earlier this week. 

Professor Brian Schmidt, a Nobel Prize recipient and astronomer at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University, immediately tweeted that the object was likely to be space junk. 

And later: 

The Sydney Observatory cited Professor Schmidt in its Twitter feed :

An astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Jonathan McDowell, has tweeted a statement that the object is confirmed to be a Soyuz rocket stage.

Although NASA issued an alert on Thursday saying a seven-metre, three-tonne, cylindrical object would plunge to Earth over Victoria and Tasmania, the agency has not yet made a statement. 

Airservices Australia spokesman Paul Sadler told the ABC, "It's understood there were a number of triple-zero calls to emergency services possibly reporting a plane in trouble but that certainly wasn't the case." 

Lisa Gent, who saw the object just before 10pm while driving in Diamond Creek in outer north-eastern Melbourne, said, "It was an amazing bright light with a really long, white tail with flecks of red. It was just amazing.

"It looked like absolutely nothing I had ever seen. Quite scary once we knew it was something like we had never seen before."

Witnesses were dazzled in three states, with residents of Melbourne and Gippsland in Victoria and Burnie in northern Tasmania, expressing awe at the bright object.

Meisha Hawkins, in Upper Burnie, Tasmania, said "I thought it must have been real close but clearly it was big and bright and even had a tail like on the movies," she said.

Lisa Rochfort Demsey of Langwarrin, in Melbourne's southeast, said her husband Glen saw the meteorite as he took his bins out. 

"He saw a massive shooting white star moving south to north with what looked like sparks trailling off its long, white tail. Then he lost sight of it. All up it took about six seconds," she said.

Residents of Cobar, in western NSW, heard a sonic boom after a five minute delay, which indicates that the object disintegrated within 100 kilometres of the town.

Did you spot the unusual light? Tweet us your photos at @sbsnews

with AAP

3 min read
Published 10 July 2014 at 11:59pm
Source: SBS