Hundreds of people across the United Kingdom had front-row seats to an exciting mystery that literally went right over their heads on Wednesday night. A massive fireball with origins not yet known shot right across the sky, puzzling hundreds of people across Scotland, Ireland and England.
The fast-moving fireball was caught on several cameras at around 10 p.m. local time. Some witnesses described it as looking green while videos showed it surrounded by a wide-ranging flashing aura as it bolted across the clouds.
For Steve Owens, an astronomer and science communicator at the Glasgow Science Centre, the sighting was “incredible,” he told BBC.
“I was sitting in my living room at exactly 22:00 and I saw out of the widow due south this brilliant fireball – this meteor – streaking across the sky,” he told the outlet. “I could tell it was something special. I could see through broken cloud that it was fragmenting – breaking apart with little bits coming off it.”
The UK Meteor Network, a citizen science group that uses 170 detection cameras to capture meteors and fireballs across the U.K., said it received nearly 800 reports of the fireball. The International Meteor Organization received more than 1,000.
The exact details of the fireball – where it came from and where it landed – are still being figured out, but the IMO believes its trajectory began in a triangle between Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and northern England and traveled north and slightly west, before landing in the ocean just south of the Hebrides.
One thing that does seem certain, however, is that the bolt of light likely wasn’t a meteor. Researchers think that it was most likely space debris, with some questioning whether it belongs to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, although that has not been verified, and according to astronomer Jonathan McDowell, is not likely based on the fireball’s trajectory.
“No evidence of a Starlink or other space debris reentry over the UK at that time,” McDowell said. He also said that it was slower than normal meteors, though not completely out of regular range, “but too fast for a satellite.”
The UK Meteor Network, however, said the fireball lasted for about 20 seconds, “which is relatively slow for a meteor but consistent with space debris.” Owens had told BBC that meteors or shooting stars tend to be “tiny little streaks of light lasting a fraction of a second.”
“There is a great deal of speculation about last night’s fireball,” UK Meteor Network tweeted on Thursday. “The evidence we have seen so far indicates space junk but if we are presented with new data that changes that, we’ll let you know.”
Researchers are continuing to analyze the data to identify the fleeting object.