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With the Perseids at their peak, many people are sharing amazing photographs and videos — and some of them clearly more exercises in special effects than actual sky-watching.

My daughter's friend sent her this tiktok video, and my daughter, with healthy skepticism, thought that the speed seems wrong, and asked for my opinion.

Of course, Tiktok is a red flag, but the thing that jumped out to me is that the lines from the two purported meteors cross — shouldn't they be radial lines from the same point?

Beyond though, what should I look for? I am not really concerned with this video in particular, except as an example. What should one look for in general to discount faked meteor videos and photographs — both blatant and subtle?

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    $\begingroup$ There are sporatic meteors that don't have a common radiant. But what's in the video just looks like a power line. $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2023 at 21:25

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The linked image shows a de-orbiting space junk (as Darth Pseudonym notes it's likely the remains of a Soyuz rocket that was launched earlier that day). It's not "fake" per se, but it isn't a regular meteor, and not a Perseid. A meteor looks like a sudden streak in the sky, and lasts about a second. The "second meteor" is just a telephone cable or powerline. (I though at first it was a contrail from an aircraft that is being lit apparently by the light of the de-orbiting satellite as it seemed to have a twisted look that contrails often develop, but I've changed my mind)

Perseid meteors have range of brightness, but they are rather tricky to video well because they are not that bright, they are comparable to stars in brightness. A person won't have time to turn on their phone camera to capture a video of a perseid. They will have set up a fixed camera looking up into the sky, and it will look kind of grainy, because they will have had to turn the ISO setting up to get the kind of sensitivity needed

Occasionally there are brighter meteors, called fireballs, these can be much brighter, but they still move fast! A fireball may last five or ten seconds as it streaks across the sky. These are often videoed in the background as people are taking other shots, particularly dash-cams, as these are always on.

De-orbiting satellites move more slowly and often visibly break up as they fall. The tiktok video shows exactly what one would expect for de-orbiting satellite or space junk (and is even tagged as such).

The other thing to look for in fake videos and images is the "Looks cool" For example, you'll never see the "rock" you'll never see a rock on fire hit the ground and explode. If it's too awesome, it's probably not real.

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  • $\begingroup$ I concur that it's almost certainly a object in low Earth orbit and not a meteor based on the apparent speed. Things in (very) low Earth orbit are moving a little below 8,000 meters per second (they generally circularize before dropping low enough to reenter) while things traveling in the solar system in heliocentric orbits generally reach us at a 3 to 5 times higher velocity. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 13, 2023 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ It's not a satellite, it's a Soyuz rocket, from a launch earlier the same day. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2023 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ Good find @DarthPseudonym, I'll edit. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Aug 14, 2023 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ All Perseids enter the Earth's atmosphere at 59km/s - this is why they last less than a second. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2023 at 21:26
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What is it?

The object that's entering the atmosphere and breaking up as it does so is not a meteor -- it's much, much too slow for an object in solar orbit -- but rather some human-generated debris falling back down from low earth orbit. It's believed to be the discarded remains of a Russian Soyuz rocket that launched from Plesetsk earlier that day (Monday, August 7th, 2023), according to the Australian Space Agency. They were launching a new GPS satellite.

As far as the "crossing trails", I think you're simply mistaken about what you're seeing. In the first clip, there's a power line and a tree that the fireball passes behind, which are both lit from the ground (you can tell it's a power line because it has a slight helical pattern to it, and right before the cut there's a second one that enters the frame in the lower left). There is no second meteor trail crossing the first one, it's just ground-based objects between the camera and the sky.

The whole thing is certainly impressive and slow enough to "look fake" at first viewing, but there are enough films and reports of it from around Melbourne that we can be confident that it really happened.

Basic research for "is this real?"

You can't be 100% sure of any single video or photo, but if something amazing is happening in a highly visible place (like the sky or in a city), there ought to be dozens of different people who are all reporting or posting photos of it from different positions, which is a good indication that it was, at least, a real phenomenon (though the common explanation of what they're seeing might be wildly mistaken). When the video helpfully specifies when and where it was taken, as this video does, that gives you a great way to check on it by just doing a web search. For example, in this case a search for "Melbourne Australia meteor August 2023" picks up dozens of news stories about it, most of which quote the Australian Space Agency's explanation of what the object was.

This works for other possibly fake videos, too -- if there's some amazing thing installed on a street somewhere, we would expect to see many people recording it and posting about it, and news outlets discussing it. If there's only one video by one guy on Tiktok, it's probably not a real thing.

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    $\begingroup$ I once saw something like this when watching a meteor shower (the Leonids in about 2000 +- 1 in Nova Scotia with my fellow physics undergrads), and I seem to recall finding out the next day with google or altavista or something that it had been a "Russian booster rocket" re-entering the atmosphere. Yes, it looked a lot like what's in the video, maybe 30 seconds from when I first noticed it to the horizon. $\endgroup$ Aug 15, 2023 at 5:48

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