Texas Fireball Likely Caused by Meteor, Not Satellite Debris
This computer-generated image shows objects (white dots) currently being tracked in low Earth orbit, which is the most concentrated area for orbital debris.
Credit: NASA

A fireball that lit up the sky over parts of Texas early Sunday was not caused by debris from a satellite collision last week, and more likely stemmed from a falling meteor, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials have said.

The fireball, which appeared over a wide swath of Texas, loosed sonic booms that rattled windows and shook houses, according to reports from residents who called their local law enforcement agencies. A similar sighting was reported late Friday over parts of eastern central Kentucky.

FAA spokesperson Roland Herwig told the Associated Press that the fireball was most likely created by a natural phenomenon and not man-made satellite debris.

Over the weekend, FAA officials said the Texas fireball could possibly have been sparked by re-entering debris caused during the Feb. 10 collision of a U.S. Iridium communications satellite and a defunct Russian military satellite. The rare, and devastating, smash-up created two large clouds of debris made up of hundreds of individual pieces of wreckage that are currently being tracked by the U.S. Defense Department?s Space Surveillance Network. The network continuously monitors the more than 18,000 man-made objects in Earth orbit.

The FAA released several weekend advisories to pilots warning of the potential hazard of falling satellite debris. Those advisories were cancelled Sunday, Herwig said.

Preston Starr, the observatory manager at the University of North Texas, told the Associated Press that Sunday?s fireball was likely caused by a meteor streaking through Earth?s atmosphere at between 15,000 mph and 40,000 mph. The object would have been the size of a truck and have the consistency of concrete, Starr said, adding that such objects burn up in Earth?s atmosphere between eight and 10 times each year.