Flying fireball seen over BYU and BYUI

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A fireball seen crossing the night sky both in Provo and in Rexburg, Idaho, turned out to be space debris from a Chinese rocket burning up in the atmosphere.

BYU students watched in awe as a large fireball streaked across the night sky heading northbound on Monday night. At about 10:55 p.m., students at BYU—Idaho reported witnessing the same thing. Identifying the object was difficult with the naked eye, although it appeared to be close.

In a statement released to KSL.com, the NASA Solar System Ambassador to Utah, Patrick Wiggins, identified what the fireball was.

“The object was a rocket body used in the launch of the Yaogan Weixing-26, a Chinese satellite, which was launched in December 2014.”

The body detached in space and burned up in the atmosphere only 149 kilometers above the earth. The proximity of the object, combined with the curvature of the planet, gave off the optical illusion that it was going to crash nearby. Johnny Hicks, a senior studying business management at BYU, was in his car with his girlfriend when he spotted the fireball.

“It was quite a spectacular site,” Hicks said. “I thought it didn’t look like a typical shooting star because those usually burn out quickly. I joked that it was a bomb, and she joked back that it was like the show, ‘The 100.’ I worried that maybe it was a plane that had started on fire and was now falling to the earth. I was scared it was going to hit the ground at my house in northern Provo.”

Nate Mosley, another BYU student, was about to kiss his fiancée, Katrina Schaelling, goodnight when they both saw the fireball moving fast across the sky.

“I looked up and was speechless … it was so close but yet so far,” Mosley said. “It had a tail that was very long. Debris was coming off of it and floating behind. But there was no sound. It was as quiet as a hybrid just creeping along the sky. It took only seconds or so to cross the sky. I thought it fell to the earth because it looked like it turned vertical.”

BYU—Idaho student Blake Bergener was just getting into his car in Rexburg when he saw the fireball coming in fast from the corner of his eye. Bergener managed to grab his phone in time and record a video.

“I saw light moving in the sky out of the corner of my eye flying north,” Bergener said about his experience. “The tail was long, and there were parts flying off of it. People around me thought it was going to hit the earth. They asked me if I knew what it was, but all I really knew about it was to pray for Canada because we had an unknown object heading right for them.”