A bright fireball shot across the night sky over the UK and Ireland Wednesday evening sparking almost 800 reports of a possible meteor to the UK Meteor Network. The spectacle, captured in multiple videos and shared online, is now being investigated by scientists. Whether it was a visiting space rock or space junk is not yet certain.
“Currently the jury is still out about whether the fireball over Scotland is a meteorite or a bit of space junk. It had a really shallow entry angle, was visible for a long time (20 seconds), and fragmented a lot,” Dr Luke Daly, Lecturer in Planetary Geoscience at the University of Glasgow, told IFLScience.
"At the moment, we're leaning towards a meteorite as although it is slow, it's still going quite fast: a typical large bit of space junk would take 2 minutes to cross the sky not 20 seconds and we would also expect space junk to fragment even more than this did. We're hoping to get a calculation of the velocity and orbit soon that will tell us more conclusively if this was a space rock or a space not.”
However, the UK Meteor Network is erring toward space debris.
If indeed it’s a meteor, it might have left some meteorite behind like the famous Winchcombe meteorite, which was found thanks to the quick work of the UK Fireball Alliance. If a piece of the fireball has reached Scottish soil, it would be the first meteorite found in the country in 100 years. Scientists aren't getting their hopes up just yet though.
“Unfortunately, whatever it turns out to be, the shallow entry angle means it is likely that it all burned up, and even if anything survived it's likely making its way to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean," Dr Daly told IFLScience. "So sadly, no plans in motion for a search just yet. Once more data comes in and we get a robust idea of what it is, if anything survived, and if it landed on land we'll certainly be going out to check but right now I’m just rewatching all the incredible footage of this fireball.
It's likely that fireballs in the night sky will be on the rise thanks to the sheer number of objects, not least the number of satellites being sent to space by Elon Musk et al., being sent up. Eventually, what goes up must come down.