Space junk soars over Bendigo

TINY: Rachel Daw's photo of the space junk.
TINY: Rachel Daw's photo of the space junk.

BENDIGO was treated to a spectacular sight on Thursday when a bright-burning object passed over the region.

The Bureau of Meteorology received many reports of the light show over Bendigo just before 10pm - with callers saying they had sighted a meteor.

But curator of astronomy at the Sydney Observatory said the object was space junk and not a meteor because it was travelling slower than the escape velocity from Earth, which is 11.2km/sec or 40,000km/hour.

He said the fireball was a “very rare and exciting” event.

“Some people saw it for a 10 seconds or more, which is a very long time for a piece of rock from space, which suggests it could have been space junk,” he said.

He said the object most likely plunged into the ocean north of Brisbane.

Bendigo District Astronomical Society's media officer Graeme Knight said the event of space junk burning up in the Earth's atmosphere was quite rare.

"In my experience it is very rare but space junk entering the Earth's atmosphere does happen from time to time," he said.

"Most of the time it is very quick."

Mr Knight didn't know how much orbital debris (man-made space junk) was being tracked but a 2009 report from NASA said it tracked more than 19,000 pieces of space junk.

"There is quite a lot of space junk up there," Mr Knight said.

"The International Space Station needs to be careful when orbiting the Earth and occasionally do have to alter their orbit.

"There are thousands of pieces that need to be accounted for and kept track of. Even small flecks of paint can be hazardous."

The NASA report said there were about 300,000 pieces of debris smaller than one centimetre orbiting below a 200 kilometre altitude.

Rachel Daw saw the meteor clearly from her White Hills home and took a photograph.

"It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen," she said.

Many Bendigo Advertiser readers took to Facebook to tell of their sightings.

Carla Lang said she was driving home from Melbourne Airport when she spotted a bright light.

"We pulled over to enjoy it," she wrote. "Was certainly a special sight, especially with planes coming into land and take off."

- with THE AGE 


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