Kosmos-2551 created a funerary fire in the sky.
A failed Russian spy satellite crashed back to Earth early this morning (Oct. 20), burning up in a brilliant fireball spotted by many observers in the American Midwest.
The American Meteor Society (AMS) has so far received more than 80 reportsabout the fiery display, from people as far south as Tennessee and as far north as Michigan. The AMS has posted dramatic imagery captured by some of these observers, including a 27-second video from skywatcher Chris Johnson that shows the meteor blazing a trail through the skies above Fort Gratiot Township, Michigan.
The fireball lit up around 12:43 a.m. EDT (0443) today, according to the AMS, leaving little doubt about its cause.
12:43 a.m. EDT is "the exact predicted time Kosmos-2551 passed over the region, and within the re-entry time uncertainty window given by Space Force. So I conclude that the ID with Kosmos-2551 is solid," astronomer and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell, who's based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said via Twitter today.
Kosmos-2551 is a Russian reconnaissance satellite that launched on Sept. 9 but apparently failed shortly thereafter. The spacecraft had not adjusted its orbit once since liftoff, McDowell tweeted on Monday (Oct. 18), noting that Kosmos-2551 was expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere the next day — a forecast that turned out to be off by less than an hour.
Kosmos-2551's incineration likely did not threaten anyone on the ground. The satellite "is thought to be only about 500 kg [1,100 pounds] and no debris is expected to reach the ground," McDowell said in another Monday tweet.