Chinese space junk sparks meteor reports

Image: Fireball
YouTube user Ian Norman captured this view of the fireball in the skies over Alabama Hills, Calif. (Credit: Ian Norman via YouTube)

A bright streak in the sky generated hundreds of meteor sighting reports from Southern California to British Columbia, but it didn’t take long for the flash to be traced to the re-entry of a Chinese rocket stage.

The fireball was seen across a wide swath of the western United States between 9:30 and 10 p.m. PT Wednesday. More than a dozen Washington state observers on the east side of the Cascades filed reports with the American Meteor Society. But Western Washington? Not so much, probably because of sighting angles as well as sky conditions.

The fireball’s trajectory matched up with the track of a second-stage booster from a Chinese Long March 7 rocket that was launched on Monday. This launch sent up several experiments and satellites, but it also served as an initial flight test for a vehicle that’s expected to send payloads to China’s present and future space stations.

The U.S. military’s Joint Space Operations Center confirmed that the rocket stage fell through the atmosphere and broke up as it passed over California and Nevada, heading eastward.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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