Was the Fireball Over Oregon More Than Just 'Space Junk'?
Wednesday night saw an unexpected, fiery visitor grace the skies above Oregon. A large, bright light was seen streaking above metropolitan areas including McMinnville, Beaverton, Gresham, at one point appearing to split into two separate parts on their way across the sky.
While the object had a fiery tail, it definitely wasn't a meteorite. It moved far too slowly across the sky to be a passing chunk of rock, and it was only seen in a small, single part of the sky, when meteor showers can generally be seen across a larger geographical area as multiple lights dash past the world.
UFO enthusiasts may be eager to suggest that this unexplained light was some form of extra-terrestrial visitor, but the truth may be a lot less exciting. According to local scientist and director of space education at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Jim Todd, this light was almost certainly just a piece of boring old space junk.
Astronauts have left plenty of trash in space over the years, from the cover of the Cassini Space Probe's aluminum cover, to entire satellites that never quite make it into their expected orbit. Recently, the US government and SpaceX lost track of the mysterious Zuma spy satellite before it was able to enter its planned orbit, so there's certainly a precedent for man-made objects getting lost in the space surrounding our planet, and ultimately crashing down to Earth.
This of course is to say nothing of the interstellar flotsam that has been sent into space for no other purpose than to let millionaires boast about their successes. Elon Musk's Tesla and a shiny giant disco ball are but two recent useless objects to be launched beyond our planet's atmosphere, and it's likely that the future will see more unnecessary missions to send pointless stuff into orbit.
This being the case, it's worth taking the Oregon light as an omen of things to come. It's likely that we'll see plenty more space junk drifting down into the atmosphere in the coming years, as the orbital space surrounding Planet Earth gets far more crowded.
So long as none of this junk ends up causing a Gravity style situation, this will only ever be an annoyance. Eventually, though, we're likely to get to the point where orbital garbage ends up making missions into space a lot more dangerous.
Oh well. At least space garbage is pretty when it rains down on an unsuspecting world.