Was it a bird, was it a plane

Image: CASC/GautengWeather/Twitter

Was it a bird, was it a plane or a bolide…No, more likely a rocket!

Made in China: The ‘meteor shower’ that lit up the sky across South Africa has been identified as the Chinese Yuanzheng-1S rocket being deorbited.

Was it a bird, was it a plane

Image: CASC/GautengWeather/Twitter

After Dr Daniel Cunnama initially said that it was not a meteor shower but a bolide that piqued the interest of many South Africans on Tuesday night, the science engagement astronomer at the SA Astronomical Observatory took to Twitter to say that what people saw in the sky was actually the upper stage of the Chinese Yuanzheng-1S rocket being deorbited.

Meteor shower vs Bolide

Gauteng residents took to social media to share footage of what they thought was a “meteor shower” on 24 August, when Cunnama identified it as a bolide.

Cunnama told The Citizen: “From what I can see, it is not a meteor shower. A meteor shower occurs when you have a whole lot of meteors over a course of a night or a few days,” he was quoted as saying. The way a meteor shower happens is when one would go out at night and you would see a shooting star every minute or two and that is not what we are experiencing here, it was a single object.”

The single object was later identified by astronomer, Jonathan Mcdowell as the Chinese Yuanzheng-1S rocket being deorbited. McDowell shared his calculations on on Twitter, saying that he gets a “good match with the time and location of the observations”.

Chinese Yuanzheng-1S rocket

The rocket was launched on 24 August by the China Satellite Network Group.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) launched the Internet Connectivity Test Satellites, a communications satellite, atop a Long March 2C / YZ-1S rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Questioning objects in the sky

People have long been interested in strange objects in the sky, whether it is to confirm alien life or spot a meteor shower, they are quick to share their ‘evidence’ on social media.

In March 2021, residents in Seattle shared numerous videos on social media showing brilliant, blazing streaks overhead, in what they believed was a possible Unidentified flying object (UFO).

Solving the mystery

2OceansVibe reports that McDowell solved the mystery once more saying that the meteoric display was actually the breakup of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stage, leftover from a launch that took place more than three weeks ago.

“The Falcon 9 second stage from the Mar 4 Starlink launch failed to make a deorbit burn and is now re-entering after 22 days in orbit,” McDowell tweeted.

According to McDowell, the rocket weighed around three tons and measured seven metres by 3,6 metres across.

The National Weather Service in Seattle also weighed in, saying “there are no expected impacts on the ground in our region at this time”.