Spectators in America’s Midwest were able to catch a glimpse of the glowing flames in the early hours of the morning as the Russian reconnaissance satellite plunged to its death. Kosmos-2551 launched on September 9 from the Plesetsk military launch site in Northern Russia, aboard a Soyuz 2-1v rocket, at 3:59 pm. But it failed shortly afterwards as it failed to adjust its orbit even once since liftoff. It was reportedly stuck in a low orbit, unable to climb to its intended 108-mile altitude above Earth.
The spy satellite, which was to be used for Earth imaging, then fell from its original orbit and quickly decayed.
As it fizzled down to Earth, a fireball glowed up at around 12:43 a.m. EDT (05:43 UK time) and some stunning images of the incident were captured on camera.
The trail was sighted from Harrisville, Pennsylvania, to Streator, Illinois, with a total of 153 witness reports filed with the American Meteor Society (AMS).
AMS also received 12 videos and 13 photos of the fireball.
Jonathan McDowell, who’s based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said on Twitter that no one will be hurt by the incident.
He posted: “The satellite is thought to be only about 500 kg [1,100 pounds] and no debris is expected to reach the ground.”
And one observer caught the stunning event on video.
Chris Johnson captured footage of the burning satellite soaring over Fort Garrett in the US state of Michigan.
He told AMS: “I know it was a Russian satellite. But wanted to report. Appears I’m the farthest north so far to observe it.
“It was really breaking up when I saw it.”
But while this was a stunning sight for some viewers, fireballs coming from space junk are a common occurrence.
Last year, the re-entering third stage of a Soyuz rocket caused the sky to illuminate in a dazzling spectacle during the launch of a Russian military satellite.
And as more and more satellites are getting sent into orbit as the advancement of technology accelerates, experts are becoming concerned that space junk may become a pressing issue, and urgent action has been suggested.