On Tuesday night many people in California and Nevada looked up to see a fireball streaking across the sky. The “unexplained” bright light was seen from Las Vegas to Sacramento, hurtling through the night before appearing to break up. Many took to Twitter to post videos and pictures of the object, which for a time vexed many as to what it could have been. Was it a test rocket from the military? Part of the Geminid meteor shower that had started earlier in the month? Or as some inevitably suggested, a UFO?
Officials have, however, put any rumors of extra-terrestrial visitors burning up on entry to bed, as they confirmed to NBC News that the fireball was in fact Russian space debris. The U.S. Strategic Command announced that it was the left overs of a Russian SL-4 rocket body, which was launched by the Russian Space Agency on Monday, and re-entered the atmosphere over Arizona at about 19:08 MT. Despite looking like it broke up, U.S. Strategic Command was unable to confirm this, or if any of it managed to make it back to Earth in one piece.
The rocket was just one of an estimated 16,000 space objects that the Joint Space Operation Center, which is the United States’ command and control weapon system, is currently tracking. Most objects that re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere burn up on entry, but occasionally some make it to touch down, such as the large piece of an American Falcon 9 rocket found off the coast of Scilly in the U.K.