John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Witnesses describe the sight as “epic” and “jaw dropping.”
Late Sunday night, Hawaiians were treated to the cosmos vomiting out a great stream of fire. In two-dozen reports to the American Meteor Society, witnesses called it “jaw dropping,” “fragmented like fireworks,” “so close” and “so bright.” Wrote one:
I've NEVER seen anything like this. At least not to the brightness, width, [length], colors, trails, pass over the entire sky and feel so close. I have seen one amazing ball of fire cross the entire sky one time in my life as well as other small ones, meteor showers and haleys comet. This was epic.
What appeared to be a flock of meteors had a terrestrial explanation. It was likely a creaky Russian spacecraft launched in the 1980s, ending its life in a fiery plunge through the earth’s atmosphere.
The Cosmos 1315 satellite went up in 1981 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on a signals-intelligence mission. It had been forgotten by most outside the space-geek crowd until this weekend, when its disintegrating body shot out balls of flame like an exploding fireworks stand. Given the lack of debris on the ground, it’s probably now resting with the sharks and eels at the bottom of the ocean.
Quick-witted photographers managed to capture its surreal, sluggish-looking immolation. (Meteors can zip through the sky at up to 45 miles per second, but satellites tend to orbit slower, around 5 mps.) Here’s what people saw, omitting one nice video with cussing.
H/t Bad Astronomy