News State NT News Space junk creates spectacular outback lightshow

Space junk creates spectacular outback lightshow

Photo: ABC/supplied Nate Patterson
Nate Patterson was at Yulara when he saw the lights in the sky.
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An orange-green light streaked across the sky over a wide region in Central Australia on Saturday night, sending some scrambling for cameras and leaving others awestruck.

The light seen about 7:50pm (ACST) disrupted a history talk in Gemtree, about 140 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, and sightings were reported from as far afield as Marla, 400km away in South Australia.

Sandra Patterson who works at Yulara was with her husband Nate when they saw the huge trail across the sky.

“It was absolutely breathtaking,” Ms Patterson said. “There was this amazing glow and it was huge and it was just travelling.”

“My initial thought was ‘oh my God, I hope it isn’t a message from North Korea’,” she said.

Ms Patterson said there was no noise, but it seemed to be travelling parallel to the Earth and she could see parts of its breaking off.

Her husband Nate Patterson was able to get a photo of the event.

History talk turns to sky watching

Owner of the Gemtree Homestead, Kate McMaster, said she was giving about 30 guests a history talk at an outdoor dinner when her show was upstaged by the sight.

“I was just standing there presenting the show to the guests and suddenly the night sky lit up,” Ms McMaster told ABC Local Radio Darwin.

“All the guests instantly stood up out of their chairs and turned and looked.

“It flew through the sky and it was in the air for almost up to a full minute by the end of it and it divided from one big fireball into four smaller ones and had a huge tail with orange and green in it,” Ms McMaster said.

Wayne Campbell from Alice Springs also saw the sight, and had time to go into his house, get his phone, return outside and video the sight for almost a minute.

“It started out as a fireball at first,” Mr Campbell said. “It was amazing.”

Watch the video below. Warning: language

Posted by Wayne Campbell on 2017年9月16日

Witnesses should feel ‘extremely fortunate’

David Finlay who runs the Australian Meteor Reports Facebook page said he thought it was the third stage of a Soyuz rocket re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Mr Finlay said he believed it was a rocket launched a few days ago to resupply the International Space Station.

“This would have been an incredibly spectacular sight as the rocket stage started to vaporise and break apart, and it is highly likely some of this rocket survived and landed in the NT,” he said.

A Russian Soyuz rocket blasting into space. Photo: Getty

“I’ve never seen anything like this myself with the naked eye and I spend a lot of time outside at night looking at the sky.

“So those people that saw Soyuz rocket should consider themselves extremely fortunate that they saw such a fantastic event.”

Mr Finlay said usually rockets were programmed to re-enter the Earth heading towards the ocean and it was uncommon for them to burn up over land masses.

He also said it would not be hard to find the remnants, given the rocket is about the size of a bus.

“The trajectory and the ground track of this rocket would be fairly well known,” Mr Finlay said.

Light lasted too long to be meteor

Amateur astronomer Geoff Carr, who runs Star Safaris in Darwin, agreed the object was more likely to be a returning rocket or piece of space junk, rather than a meteor.

“If there were colours coming off it then that is almost certainly a satellite or a piece of space junk, because of all the components and the different pieces of metal they tend to burn up at very, very high temperatures and therefore they exhibit different colours,” Mr Carr said.

“Meteors, or shooting stars as they are probably more commonly, called are much, much quicker.”

Many people took to social media to report seeing the same light show.