On October 18, NASA issued an explanation of the strange lights that moved across the midwest around sunset on October 13. This explanation, based on calculations by satellite tracker Alan Pickup, was that the phenomenon was caused by the re-entry of a Russian Proton rocket that had been used to send up elements of a satellite tracking system a few hours before.
Military officials, however, disagree. “We’re chalking it up to a natural phenomenon,” said Maj. Perry Nouis of the US Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. He further stated that NORAD had not tracked the re-entry of a Proton rocket casing at the time of the event. The casing would be 14 feet in diameter, 20 feet long and weigh about 500 pounds. Such an object would definitely have been tracked by various Space Command systems, some of which are capable of identifying a tennis ball at a distance of 30,000 miles.
Master Sgt. Larry Lincoln of the North American Aerospace Defense Command said, “that was not manmade.”
The possibility that the phenomenon was an early arrival of the Orionid meteor shower which is expected to appear this weekend has been suggested. But the lights did not appear out of the constellation Orion, and did not appear anything like the Orionids, which are no larger than grains of sand and moving at a speed of 90,000 mph. They appear as very bright, quick sparks.
At this point, this unusual phenomenon remains unexplained, as the absence of a track on observational equipment would appear to take precedence over astronomer calculations, no matter how accurate they appear to be. (In fact, Pickup’s estimate indicated that the Proton would have re-entered about a minute and a half after the phenomenon began.)
This is an eyewitness account of the phenomenon, sent in by a Whitleysworld correspondent:
“I was very fortunate to have witnessed the lights which streamed over Kansas on October 13. I was on my way back to New Mexico, traveling southwest on highway 56 at 7:26 pm when I noticed what at first looked like a jet contrail or a meteor moving toward me from the south. After a few seconds, I definitely realized this was different, and being an astronomy enthusiast, this was right down my alley. First of all, rather than travelling at typical meteor speed, this seemed to be moving at low-orbit satellite speed. I had time to come to a stop, turn on my camcorder and step out of my vehicle before this phenomenon was yet directly overhead.
“Though I did get video, it’s not very good (on the dark side). I can tell you this: it DID NOT look like any meteor or meteor shower I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few in my life. It appeared to be a cluster of more than a dozen objects entering the atmosphere, some strung out for about 25 degrees along their trajectory, but most in a tighter, lead cluster. Each burned as a white hot point, and each was followed by a brilliant trail. The trails varied somewhat in color, but all were of a bright, stark, whitish, fluorescent quality. Some of the individual objects burned out as theytraveled along, with approx. a half-dozen making it quite far north (to within 20 degrees of the horizon, I’d say), where they all went dark. No Sound — no sonic boom. They were undoubtedly very high in the atmosphere. In appearance they most reminded me of burning pieces or ribbons of magnesium (high-school chemistry re-lived!). This event tookseveral minutes to cross the sky. The white smoke trails (NOT ionized air) remained for at least 20 min., at which time it became too dark out to view them any longer. The entire event was quite eerie but beautiful, and again I must stress, very different — not at all the “fireball” type appearance of meteors I’ve seen. This event ranks as the most spectacular sky occurrence I’ve ever seen!
“The conclusion I came to on site was that it was some large complex satellite re-entering from a decayed orbit, perhaps one of the Iridiums. More than 2 hours later (on, I believe, the 10pm local Kansas news), it was said that some reported it as “a plane in trouble” (ya right), but reporters concluded it was probably a meteor. Then at midnight, I heard you mention this event on Mike Siegel, and I realized I wasn’t seeing imaginary things! Whitley, I’ve never seen an artificial satellite burn up on re-entry. Is it possible this was a satellite re-entering the atmosphere (such as one of the Iridiums)? Or don’t they appear that way? Otherwise, I don’t have the slightest idea what I saw hitting our atmosphere at an extremely low angle. One thing I can say — “NORAD, in my opinion, this thing was not an Orinid meteor….”
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