Iowans were treated to something spectacular Thursday night when a large streak of light shot across the sky above Des Moines. Hundreds of reports came rushing in to the American Meteor Society after the bright light caught the attention of several eyewitnesses.
Observers began posting about the fireball over Iowa to social media around 5:40 p.m. Thursday, the Des Moines Register reports. People in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee also reported seeing a fireball in the sky.
“We’re looking at the reports,” Kurt Kotenberg, of the National Weather Service, told KSDK. “The interesting thing’s about it, Venus was visible in the sky just after sunset.”
According to KSDK, thousands of these types of fireballs occur everyday. And while there were no meteor showers expected Thursday, it’s not uncommon to see a few “shooting stars” now and then.
So what exactly was it that sped through the sky above Iowa? According to Bay News 9, the National Weather Service is still trying to determine what the fireball could have been. Because of the fireball’s location in the sky, and the few pieces of footage that exist of the light streak, it will be hard to pinpoint whether the fireball was a meteor or a piece of space debris.
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“If it was a meteor it was probably a pretty good-sized one to be as bright as it was,” Richard Miles, with the Science Center of Iowa, told WHOtv. “It could also be some space debris. Anything that goes through our atmosphere from outer space is going to be going at pretty intense speeds and that’s going to cause a lot of friction, cause a lot of heat, and that’s what causes the glowing that you see as a meteorite or debris burning up in the atmosphere.”
The fireball’s path from south to north would be consistent with a piece of space junk, the Des Moines Register reported. Surveillance satellites usually orbit the earth from north to south.
“We’ve been launching stuff up into space for 56 years now and some of that comes down in the form of space junk,” Steven Spangler, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa, told the Des Moines Register.