People around the Pacific Northwest looked up in the sky with awe at an unusual and spectacular sight. While many thought it was a meteor shower or a bolide, it turns out the reverse-fireworks show was nothing more than a SpaceX rocket’s fiery re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere high above Seattle.
The National Weather Service confirmed that debris from a Falcon 9 rocket launched by SpaceX was responsible for lighting up the Seattle sky. The debris was from the launch vehicle’s second stage rocket which did not successfully complete a de-orbit burn.
“Typical man made objects obtain low Earth orbit at speeds around 17,500 mph,” the Seattle office of the National Weather Service said. “As they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, the angle must be right. If it’s too steep, they burn up. If the angle is too small, they risk ‘skimming’ the atmosphere like a stone on water.”
Many thought the incident was some kind of meteor shower or bolide. A bolide is an extremely bright meteor which often explodes in the atmosphere. The National Weather Service added, “Meteors, on the contrary, can easily reach the top of (the) atmosphere at speeds greater than 45,000 mph. In addition, the angle of impact can be very steep…which can incinerate the object quickly.”
The second stage responsible for tonight’s light show was part of the March 4 SpaceX mission designed to deploy more Starlink internet satellites into orbit. The Falcon 9 rocket launched without issue from Florida’s Space Coast, delivering 60 new satellites to orbit. A short time later, the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, landing on SpaceX’s floating landing platform in the Atlantic Ocean. This launch and landing was this particular rocket’s 8th such journey to space.