DID YOU SEE THAT?! What lit up the sky Sunday night?

The bright streak of light may have been space junk falling into Earth’s atmosphere

SAN ANTONIO – Shortly after 10 p.m., July 24, folks around South Central Texas began to notice a boom and a large streak of light leaving a trail across the night sky before fizzling off with a sparkling finish.

It’s an educated guess, but the light show may have been space junk falling into Earth’s atmosphere. The American Meteor Society however says it could have been a fireball, or a large meteor. There’s no way to be sure.

AMS said it received more than 200 reports of the bright light from people in three states.

What is space junk?

Space debris or “junk” is the collection of man-made objects that exist in low Earth orbit.

This consists of discontinued satellites, discarded rocket stages, and other objects that collide and break off in space.

According to NOAA, 200 to 400 pieces of space junk fall back into Earth’s atmosphere each year. That’s nearly one per day on average.

Could it be a meteor?

Meteors travel millions of miles before they get to Earth, gaining tremendous speed. Unless the meteor is unusually very large, a meteor will move quickly across the sky. Think about if you’ve ever seen a “shooting star.”

It usually disappears before you can show anyone else! Notice that in the video above, the object appears to last in the sky for quite a while.

This can be explained by the fact that space junk enters the Earth’s atmosphere at a relatively slower speed, taking a long time to burn away and break apart.

Is space junk dangerous?

Getting hit by falling space debris is very, very unlikely. Most junk will burn up completely upon re-entry.

Even if an object survives to the surface, it will most likely land in the ocean - which makes up 70% of the Earth’s surface - or on land that is sparsely populated.

While humans on Earth may not have to worry about space junk, it’s a different story for unmanned and manned spacecraft. According to NASA, the average impact speed of tiny space debris is six miles per second. That’s faster than a bullet, and can do serious damage to satellites and spacecrafts!

Do you have pictures or videos of Sunday night’s light show? Post them to our KSAT Connect page, and they just may be featured on-air and online!

Mike Evaristo

Poor quality image of possible space debris over the Alamo.

San Antonio

Meteor or space junk?

About the Author

Sarah Spivey is a San Antonio native who grew up watching KSAT. She has been a proud member of the KSAT Weather Authority Team since 2017. Sarah is a Clark High School and Texas A&M University graduate. She previously worked at KTEN News. When Sarah is not busy forecasting, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and cat, and playing music.

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