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Space Debris through Dubai’s night sky

If you looked up in the evening sky on Monday 16 October 2017 at 7:33pm Dubai time you would have witnessed an 80-second fast moving celestial fire – then something special happened! SpaceWatch Middle East COO Torsten Kriening was an eyewitness to this phenomenon on Monday evening. It appeared to be multiple points of orange light moving together, in a straight line.

Dubai Astronomy Group reported that the object was falling space debris from a Progress rocket used to supply the International Space Station. Credits: Reem Mohammed / The National.

This bright series of objects were actually space debris entering the earth upper atmosphere or, in other words, trash burning up in space. The first reactions from national entities were not clear – from meteoroids to an alienated missile, social media was full of speculation. Videos and photos were posted across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – but no-one could agree on what exactly happened. This is at a time when we are expecting the break up of the massive 8.5-ton “Tiangong-1”  Chinese space laboratory, as this man-made object is officially out of control and will enter earth atmosphere in the next 6 months.

One explanation for the phenomenon could be that the object was the falling space debris of the Russian-built Progress module [Code: SL-4 R/B (42972U)] which burned up upon re-entry. This module was used to supply the International Space Station. “The spacecraft disintegrated in the upper atmosphere and broke up into smaller chunks and burned like fireworks. The trajectory of the debris was over Arabian Peninsula crossing UAE and Oman to finally over Indian Ocean,” Dubai Astronomy Group group’s statement said.

The entire topic of Space Situational Awareness, including initiatives of cataloging, norming and sharing of information are not on most peoples radar. In situations like the one that was experienced in Dubai, this lack of knowledge leads to diverse speculation and sometimes panic.

SpaceWatch Middle East will continue to educate our audience on space-related topics and also in cases like this –  when space debris events can actually be witnessed.

Two more videos that showed the event.


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