DENVER – If you happened to be awake way past your bedtime last night, you may have spotted a fireball darting across the Colorado sky. Let me be the first to say I am saddened to report it wasn’t aliens.
The American Meteor Society started receiving reports of a fireball in the sky shortly before 3 a.m. Thursday, first in the Town of Arboles – a municipality pretty much on the border with New Mexico – followed by eight additional reports in Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Perry Park, Gypsum, Castle Rock, Aurora, Commerce City and lastly, in Montrose.
“I heard loud bomb sounds (5-6 booms) that scared my dogs but the noise was far away,” said Sara C. in her report to the AMS from Pueblo West.
“It looked like a firework exploding downward across the western sky but I've seen plenty of fireworks and this wasn't one,” said stargazer E.C. from Castle Rock.
“The overall duration was somewhere between 10-15 seconds from when I initially spotted what I thought was an aircraft until the last of the fragments went into dark flight. Possibly space junk, as its speed across the sky was relatively slow,” said Will B. in Commerce City. “However, it’s certainly not normal for space debris to enter over central United States.”
Luckily for all us, Will B. was able to capture whatever it was he was seeing with his camera.
Ruling out the possibility of aliens, we took our questions to Chris L. Peterson, who operates the Cloudbait Observatory in Guffey to see if he captured something overnight.
It is “almost certainly space junk, not a natural meteor,” said Peterson, who told us he captured the whole thing with his automated telescope mount and a CCD camera – a special type of camera no longer used in consumer products that converts light input into electronic signal.
Video that was pieced together from his equipment showed a long debris trail following the main body of the body that was entering the atmosphere. Peterson said the video was fragmented because his camera is designed to record meteors which don’t last as long burning up as they make entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
So what was it? Peterson was able to track what type of space junk entered our airspace and as it turns out, the space debris came from the re-entry of a SpaceX rocket body, according to information provided by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
A search on the Online Satellite and Flare Tracking website, or SATFLARE, shows that debris came from the Dragon Endurance 2, a SpaceX mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Mike Lewinski in Creston captured this spectacular composite of two images of the debris stitched together as it passed by quickly over the night sky.
So there you go. Mystery solved. No contacts of any kind... just yet.