The fireball that lit up skies over Australia Thursday night (July 10) was actually part of a Russian rocket falling back to Earth, according to media reports.
Observers throughout southeastern Australia reported seeing a bright meteor streaking through the skies at about 9:45 p.m. local time on Thursday. Based on the timing and trajectory of the object, experts have concluded that the dazzling fireball captured on video was caused by a piece of a Russian rocket that launched Tuesday (July 8).
"It looks like it was the upper stage of a Soyuz rocket that was launched a few days ago," Sydney Observatory astronomer Melissa Hulbert told the Australian Associated Press. "Apparently, the tracking and impact prediction matched, [in both] time and location, what we saw."
The piece of space junk that burned up so dramatically in Earth's atmosphere was likely about 11 feet wide and 5 feet long (3.35 by 1.5 meters), Hulbert added.
The Soyuz, which was carrying a Russian weather satellite along with six secondary payloads, lifted off Tuesday from Baikonur Cosmodrome, in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan.
Such manmade meteors are not uncommon, experts say. But many pieces of space junk return to Earth unnoticed, because they re-enter during the day or over uninhabited areas — such as the oceans, which cover 70 percent of the planet's surface.
And there is a lot of debris up there. NASA researchers have estimated that Earth's cloud of space junk contains at least 20,000 objects bigger than a softball; 500,000 larger than a marble; and millions of things too small to track.
This is all very disconcerting to spacecraft operators. At orbital speeds — roughly 17,500 mph (28,160 km/h) in low-Earth orbit — even a fleck of paint could damage a satellite should the two collide.
Researchers around the world are therefore working on ways to clean up space junk, with proposed solutions ranging from solar sails to tethers and giant nets.
Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Two of three budding tropical systems in the Atlantic will approach the Caribbean, Central America and the United States in the coming days.
Severe flooding has killed nearly 300 people since last week across northeastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
More than 300 people were killed in Sierra Leone due to flooding and mudslides, with an estimated 600 people still missing.
It’s now the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic basin and with that comes the threat of an active September and the possibility of activity in October and beyond.
The arrival of autumn will bring significant changes to the weather across much of Europe.
A storm system that inundated parts of the central Plains on Tuesday will continue its trek eastward, impacting the Midwest through Thursday.
Overall, few travel problems are anticipated this weekend for those traveling in hopes to see the best view of Monday's total solar eclipse. However, there will be some trouble spots due to storms.
Don’t count on the moon to protect your eyes from frying during the Great American Eclipse.