A large light-covered object drifted across Pacific Northwest skies Thursday night, firing the curiosity of many in Goldendale, including some who posted video of it online.
So what was it?
The Goldendale Observatory’s Administrator, Troy Carpenter, says the event was a worthwhile teaching moment. Here’s what he had to say about it:
“Due to the (relatively) low speed of the object and long duration of the event, it was immediately apparent that this was not a natural object, but man-made space junk. Artificial material reentering the atmosphere is moving ‘only’ around 17,000 mph, while meteors frequently exceed 100,000 mph. Also, artificial space hardware is made of dense and durable materials like aluminum, steel, and titanium, which don’t disintegrate or vaporize as quickly as tiny, rocky particles. YouTube has years of reentry fireball videos which resemble those recorded last night in Oregon and Washington.
“I initially suspected that this was part of old weather Satellite NOAA-17, which broke up on March 10. However, it now sounds like people saw the second stage of a Space-X Falcon 9 rocket body which went up on March 4 and failed to initiate a deorbit burn, leading to eventual uncontrolled reentry. The trajectory of the fireball agrees strongly with this assumption. Going forward, events like this may occur more frequently with the aggressive launch schedule of Starlink and its future competitors; that would be interesting.
“I wasn’t outdoors during the fireball and sadly missed it. Anyone who witnessed the event is lucky, as the vast majority of deorbits take place over the South Pacific Ocean near ‘Point Nemo,’ deliberately as far from land and shipping lanes as possible. Reentry of man-made material in unplanned locations usually occurs due to loss of control.”