As astronomy enthusiasts in the U.S. were gazing at the skies to observe the Orionid meteor shower, residents in Michigan and neighboring states witnessed a different kind of fireball falling back to Earth. The slow burn may have looked like a meteor, however, it was confirmed to be a Russian satellite that had reentered the atmosphere, CNET reported.
Fireballs in the sky are exciting to watch and they provide vital clues about the origins of our solar system. Since they can practically fall anywhere, scientists often turn to the public at large to capture their fall, and later use the data to trace back their original path; not to mention looking for remnants that land on Earth. One such public repository of fireballs is the American Meteor Society that is more than a century old; the organization received multiple reports of the Russian satellite burn earlier this week.
While astronomy amateurs pondered if this was another meteor that would flash through our skies, astronomer Jonathan McDowell had already predicted that this was the Russian satellite, Kosmos-2551.
Based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, McDowell is also an avid satellite tracker and had tweeted about this imminent fall on Monday.
It now seems certain that Russia's recently launched Kosmos-2551 spy satellite is a failure - it has not adjusted its orbit since launch on Sep 9 and is expected to reenter tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/IDOHZstYV6— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) October 19, 2021
In a separate tweet, he has also stated that the 1,100-pound (500 kg) satellite would burn up in the sky and no debris would reach the ground.
McDowell later confirmed the path the defunct satellite took over the U.S. states and Canada.
Kosmos-2551 reentered between 0440 and 0510 UTC Oct 20 on a track that passsed over eastern Canada and the US. pic.twitter.com/FYLBSlpqwC— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) October 20, 2021
With space programs on the rise, such incidents are expected to be seen more often. Last year, another Russian satellite crashed over Australia according to Space.com. But apart from failures, the sheer number of spacecraft will also be a problem. A couple of months ago, a Chinese satellite was hit by a piece of junk that has been floating around in space since 1996.