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Experts say 'fireball' streaking across sky in Scotland, Northern Ireland likely space junk

Sept. 15 (UPI) -- People in Scotland and Northern Ireland saw something unusual in the sky on Wednesday night -- a fiery streak that looked like a meteor, but wasn't.

The fireball was also seen by some skywatchers in northern England. The UK Meteor Network said about 800 people reported seeing the streaking fireball, which was visible for about 20 seconds.

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If it wasn't a meteor, what was it?

Astronomers believe it was a piece of space junk, possibly connected with SpaceX's Starlink satellite program. That possibility was strengthened by the fact that the fireball appeared to break apart as it headed northwest across the sky.

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"The preliminary trajectory has been calculated by the [International Meteor Organization] and indicates that the object, which we now believe to be space debris, would have landed in the Atlantic south of the Hebrides," the UK Meteor Network said in a tweet.

UK Meteor Network astronomer John Maclean said the fireball was traveling too slowly to be a meteor.

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"What we're looking at at the moment is a Starlink satellite, which was actually due to deorbit or re-enter the atmosphere," Maclean said according to The Guardian. "But it is possible it could have deorbited slightly early."

Mclean said most meteors enter the Earth's atmosphere at speeds up to 80,000 mph, while space junk typically moves at about 30,000 mph.

"As a result space junk is visible across the sky for much longer," he added. "A meteor would be a matter of a few seconds, whereas this was visible for 20 seconds. That's too slow for a meteor."

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