Astronomers still not sure what caused fireball over Australia

Mysteries

(Image: https://www.instagram.com/perthobservatory/)

MYSTERY WIRE — A streak of colorful light streaked across the night sky in western Australia Monday night. The June 15, 2020 fireball at first was thought by many to be a meteorite, although some said it was likely space junk burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The fireball was seen at 1 a.m. local time in Australia. In many online posts, you can see the fireball burning as it soars across the sky. To some it looked green, to others blue. And even more saw it change colors multiple times.

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Glen Nagle, the education and outreach manager at the CSIRO-NASA tracking station in Canberra, Australia told an Australian news agency it was a spectacular sight.

Now, 3 days after the event, scientists aren’t quite sure what object was burning up in the atmosphere to create the brilliant light show. Some amateur astronomers speculated that the object could be human-made debris, perhaps from a recent rocket launch. But other scientists question this.

One Australian scientist said space junk that reenters the atmosphere usually crackles and sparks as different materials burn and fall away from the object.

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Monday’s fireball, while changing colors, was a smooth streak of light that glided through the sky. Glen Nagle told local media the blue color indicates a high iron content, something many meteorites have.

According to NASA, about 48.5 tons of meteor material falls on Earth every day. Meteors bright enough to be classified as fireballs are rare, but encounters with space rocks are common.

Most space rocks disintegrate entirely or are the size of a pebble by the time they make it through Earth’s atmosphere. In February 2013, what’s now known as the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Russia, the biggest space blast since the 1908 Tunguska explosion.

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