A greenish-blue fireball streaked across the skies over Australia last night, in an event captured by awe-struck observers on the ground.
The object appeared shortly before 1:00 a.m. local time, with witness accounts reported from the Pilbara region of Western Australia, Northern Territory, and South Australia, reports ABC News. The nature of the object has yet to be confirmed, but experts suspect it was a natural occurrence.
The fireball hung in the sky for a generous amount of time, allowing observers on the ground to capture the scene with phone cameras. Several witnesses uploaded scenes to the Australian Meteor Reports Facebook page, including this incredible view of the fireball as seen from Barrow Island.
The fireball caused the night sky to glow in eerie hues of blue and green. Speaking to ABC News, Glen Nagle, a scientist at the CSIRO-NASA tracking station in Canberra, said the color was likely on account of the object’s copious iron content.
Renae Sayers, a research ambassador at Curtin University’s Space, Science and Technology Centre, said it was likely a natural object due to its clean, strong line across the sky.
“What we tend to see, when objects like space debris, or if it’s a satellite burning up, what we tend to see is sort of like crackles and sparks,” Sayers told ABC News. “This is due to the fact that there is stuff burning up—so you’ve got solar panels going all over the place, you’ve got hunks of metal moving around as it’s burning up through our atmosphere.”
While spectacular and somewhat unnerving, meteors, or shooting stars as they’re often called, are a common occurrence. Around 500 meteorites reach Earth’s surface every year, with countless meteors burning up in the atmosphere prior to reaching the ground. Objects the size of a football field hit Earth around once every 2,000 years, causing extensive local damage, while asteroids posing an existential risk strike Earth on the order of millions of years, such as the object that caused the extinction of all non-avian dinosaurs, according to NASA.
A similar event was seen in Australia back in May, when incoming space debris produced a particularly stunning fireball—an event attributed to a late-stage Russian rocket burning up on re-entry.