Last night (January 21, 2015, possibly 5:30 UTC), from my house in northern California, I saw a moving point of light in the sky, going west to east, crossing about 120 degrees of sky in 5 seconds or so.

It didn't look like my experience of meteors - thicker and slower, and quite bright. I think it survived until it was out of sight entirely, rather than burning out.

Aerospace.org's reentry predictions doesn't show anything for that time.

I've seen ISS and other satellites; this was a lot larger and brighter, and my favorite satellite pass schedule also shows nothing.

Was this more likely a rocket body re-entry, or a large meteor?

  • $\begingroup$ Could it be a falling piece of space debris? $\endgroup$ – L.R. Jan 22 '15 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ amsmeteors.org/members/fireball/… ? $\endgroup$ – user21 Jan 26 '15 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Nice resource, but wrong date - mine was Tuesday night (1/20) local, Wednesday morning (1/21) UTC. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Jan 26 '15 at 17:44

Partial answer only.

120 degrees of sky in 5 seconds or so.

120 degrees in 5 seconds is about 0.42 radians per second. At a distance of 70 km (roughly the distance where an overhead meteor would start to glow visibly) that would be roughly 29 km/sec.

That's a nice number for a meteor.

But it's quite a challenging number for an originally earth-launched object to achieve during reentry unless it's done some planetary flyby's to change it's orbital energy relative to the Sun.

I know it's been almost 6 years now, but if there's a chance that the apparent rate was a lot less than 0.4 radians per second, it would open up the possibility of a reentering artificial object.

If not, I think it is more likely to be a meteor, though reentry of a deep-space bit of space junk is not impossible.


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