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Light streaking through Dubai's night sky: Meteorite or satellite?

Space tracking sites suggest Russian-made spacecraft re-entered atmosphere at same time object was seen in Dubai

  • The bright light was seen breaking off into small parts — but still moving in parallel. Residents posted the pImage Credit: Twitter
  • Combo picture shows the Progress spacecraft disintegrating in the upper atmosphere and breaking up into smalleImage Credit: Twitter / File picture
  • The bright light spotted in Dubai sky on Monday nightImage Credit: Twitter
  • Satflare, a satellite tracking site, stated that the Russian satellite SL-4 R/B has already "decayed". It statImage Credit: http://www.satflare.com/
  • Satview, which tracks satellites, suggests that the fiery object seen over Dubai on Monday night was actually Image Credit: Source: http://www.satview.org/
  • Many witnessed and captured images of falling space debris of the Russian-built Progress module, used to supplImage Credit: www.satview.org

Dubai: Was the flaming object flying overhead in Dubai and the UAE a meteor, meteorite, asteroid or comet?

Or was it something else?

The celestial spectacle over UAE's skies caught residents by surprise at around 7.30pm on Monday. Many took videos and pictures of the bright flash streaking through the night sky in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It was also reportedly seen in other parts of the Arabian Gulf. 

Then the bright light was seen breaking off into small parts — but still moving in parallel. Residents posted the pictures and videos of the spectacle on social media. 

Watch: No, it wasn't a meteor! Russian rocket breaks up over UAE sky

While some said it was a meteorite, information from Satview, which tracks satellites, show that the fiery object may actually have been the spacecraft known as SL-4 R/B.

The website claimed that the US Strategic Command — in charge of the US nuclear, cyber and 'Star Wars' programme — had sent out an "official message" that the "SL-4 R/B satellite reentered the atmosphere Oct/16/2017 at 15:28 UTC (7.28pm Dubai time) with an approximate error of +/- 1 minute(s)".

The site gave the approxiate re-entry point on the map, which correlates with the time and location in which the atmospheric entry event was observed in the UAE on Monday night.


The satellite, according to another site, had a Norad ID No. 39033 and international code 2012-074B. It was launched on December 19, 2012 at the Tyuratam Missile and Space Complex in Russia, near the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a Russian spaceport.

Satflare, another satellite tracking site said that the SL-4 R/B had already "decayed". It states: "WARNING: This object has decayed on Mon, 16/10/2017 UTC. When plotted, the yellow track shows the re-enter window" over the south-eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Statement

In a statement on Tuesday, the Dubai Astronomy Group, said the 80-second celestial event was the falling space debris of the Russian-built Progress module [Code: SL-4 R/B (42972U)] which burnt upon re-entry.

The module was used to supply the International Space Station regularly.

"The space craft disintegrated in the upper atmosphere and broke up into smaller chunks and burned like fireworks. The trajectory of the debris was over Arabian Peninsula crossing UAE and Oman to finally over Indian Ocean," the group's statement said.

According to Satview, three more space junk objects are set to re-enter the earth's atmosphere between October 18 to 27, and they can be tracked here.

Meteor shower guide

Meanwhile, a 2017 meteor shower guide published by Earthsky, shows that meteor showers, called Orionids, are expected this month.

Astronomers said, however, the Orionids will be active from October 17 to 25, with “peak nights” on October 21 to 22.

"At maximum rates, the shower may reach 15 meteors per hour that may be observed at favorable sky condition,” usually after midnight and before dawn, according to astronomers.

The Orionid showers, they explained, become visible in the night skies as the Earth passes through the stream of debris left behind by the Halley’s Comet.

It is called Orionids because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation Orion, particularly north of the Betelgeuse star, the second brightest star in the constellation.

GLOSSARY OF SPACE TERMS

So what is a meteorite? How is it different from a meteor, comet or asteriods?

Asteroid

An asteriod is a small rocky body orbiting the sun. Large numbers of these, ranging enormously in size, are found between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, called the "asteroid belt".

Meteorite

A meteorite is a solid piece of debris from an object, such as a comet, asteroid, or meteoroid, that originates in outer space and survives its passage through the Earth's atmosphere and impact with the Earth's surface or that of another planet. 

When the object enters the earth's atmosphere, various factors like friction, pressure, and chemical interactions with the atmospheric gases cause it to heat up and radiate that energy. 

Comet

Is a celestial object consisting of a nucleus of ice and dust and, when zipping around the sun, forms a "tail" of gas and dust particles pointing away from the sun. Comets are often referred to as "dirty snowballs," left over from the formation of stars and planets billions of years ago. 

Meteor

When the meteorite passes through the atmosphere, the meteorite becomes a meteor — forms a fireball, also known as a "shooting star" or "falling star"; astronomers call the brightest examples "bolides". 

Meteoroid

Nasa defines a meteoroid as a small chunk of rock or iron that travels through space.

Meteorite falls

Meteorites that survive atmospheric entry and impact vary greatly in size. For geologists, a bolide is a meteorite large enough to create a crater. Meteorites that are recovered after being observed as they transit the atmosphere or impact the Earth are called meteorite falls. All others are known as meteorite finds. 
 

Recent meteorite reports

February 15, 2013 - More than 1,100 people were injured when a meteor the size of a bus and weighed an estimated 7,000 tons exploded over Russia 

September 7, 2014 - ‘Meteorite’ smashes into Nicaraguan capital

February 9, 2016 - Indian authorities said a falling object that killed a bus driver and injured three others in Chennai, India, was a meteorite.

April 19, 2017 - A large asteroid as big as the Rock of Gibraltar had an uncomfortably close but safe encounter with the Earth, according to astronomers.

As of April 2016, there were about 1,140 witnessed falls that have specimens in the world's collections. There are more than 38,660 well-documented meteorite finds.

September 1, 2017 - Nasa tracked the Asteriod Florence as it passed earth. Scientists also found two small moons orbiting the Asteriod Florence.

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