Fireball Seen Across Midwest Was Failed Russian Satellite

Researchers believe spy satellite burned up before debris could hit the ground
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2021 9:46 AM CDT

People who saw a fireball blaze across Midwest skies early Wednesday were witnessing the death of a Russian satellite, not a meteor or a UFO, according to researchers who track objects in orbit. The American Meteor Society, which encourages people to report fireball sightings, says it received more than 80 reports about the object from nine states including Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, and Tennessee, per USA Today. Witnesses said it burned in green, gold, and pink and broke up into smaller pieces during its descent from orbit, reports the New York Times. It was last seen heading over the Great Lakes toward Canada, and experts believe all of the debris burned up before it hit the ground.

Ohio resident Stephanie Neal tells the Times that she initially thought it was a plane crash. "This thing was so bright, and so big, and it was so much slower than a meteor," she says. Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell said all evidence suggested that the fireball was Kosmos-2551, a Russian spy satellite he had been monitoring. It was seen over Michigan at 12:43am, "which is the exact predicted time Kosmos-2551 passed over the region, and within the reentry time uncertainty window given by Space Force," he tweeted.

McDowell said he was 99% sure that the Russian reconnaissance satellite had failed soon after its Sept. 9 launch. Earlier this week, he noted that Kosmos-2551 hadn't adjusted its orbit since the launch and was likely to make re-entry soon, LiveScience reports. " Re-entries of Russian satellites over the US happen now and again—maybe a couple times in the past five years or so, off the top of my head," McDowell says, per the Times. There has been no comment from Russian authorities. (More fireball stories.)

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