Windsor·Video

Flying object in night sky Russian satellite, amateur astronomer says

People in the Windsor area awake around 12:45 a.m. early Wednesday may have seen what looked like a fireball streaking across the sky.

'It just looked like a regular fireball, which happens from time to time,' says Randy Groundwater

Amateur astronomer on satellite falling to Earth

10 months ago
Duration 0:31
'Probably happens once every few months,' says Randy Groundwater of objects falling to Earth.

People in the Windsor area awake around 12:45 a.m. early Wednesday may have seen what looked like a fireball streaking across the sky.

And if it wasn't seen live, it was probably seen on social media later that morning, along with questions and opinions about what exactly was falling in the night sky.

Randy Groundwater, an amateur astronomer of 60 years and a member of the Windsor chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, said it was likely a satellite.

"At first, it just looked like a regular fireball, which happens from time to time. A larger chunk of rock, space rock, you know, usually softball size or so will produce something that bright," Groundwater said.

"But then it was quickly determined that this was actually a satellite de-orbiting."

There have been thousands of objects shot into space and that are orbiting the Earth.— Randy Groundwater

Groundwater said the satellite — called Cosmos 2551 — was a Russian satellite launched in early September.

He said it didn't reach orbiting altitude or speed and due to drag created by the Earth's atmosphere, was brought down only weeks after the launch.

"Orbital velocity to maintain an orbit is about 28,000 km/h, and it didn't manage to attain that," he said.

"So it came down and it just happened to come down over the lower Great Lakes and produced quite a light show."

More to come

Groundwater said this isn't an uncommon occurrence.

Amateur astronomer Randy Groundwater says there's plenty of stuff in space that will eventually fall back to Earth. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

"Satellites coming down the way Cosmos 2551 came down, it's not all that rare. Probably happens once every few months, somewhere around the Earth," he said.

"A lot of times it will, you know, things like that will happen over oceans or deserted areas, where not too many people live and they go unnoticed. But when it comes down in an area like where we live in, where there's millions of people, it's bound to be seen and of course, get a lot of attention that way."

And he said that with the privatization of space travel only in its "embryonic stages," there will be a lot more.

"There have been thousands of objects shot into space and that are orbiting the Earth in low-Earth orbit," he said.

"So it's a big concern and it's something that's going to have to be dealt with sooner or later," Groundwater said. "We're going to have to start thinking about cleaning up low-Earth orbit"

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