Fireball over Germany

By Phil Plait | December 24, 2011 11:38 am

[UPDATE: Turns out the fireball described below was the re-entry of the Soyuz booster that brought Expedition 30 up to the International Space Station a few days ago. Thanks to Marco Langbroek for alerting me to this!]

[Update 2 (19:08 GMT): More footage, and a picture in a Dutch paper. Tip o’ the Whipple Shield to VirtualAstro and JHG Hendriks.]

Reports are coming in of a very bright fireball over Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It happened around 16:30 GMT (17:30 local time in that part of Europe) on December 24 (just a couple of hours ago as I write this). I heard of it when BA Bloggee Dave Grant sent me a note from Dusseldorf; he got video of it!

If you are in that area and saw it, you can report it to the International Meteor Organization or to The Latest Worldwide Meteor / Fireball Reports (note: I found that last site doing a bit of searching and I’m not familiar with it, so I don’t know how official it may or may not be. There are links in the sidebar there to other organizations). make sure you list your position as best you can, and what direction you were looking.

If you did see it, and have pictures or video, please leave a comment below with a link! It’s a holiday, but I can try to post some of the better shots/footage. The more actual footage there is, the better astronomers can trace both the direction from which it came, and the location of any possible meteorites.


Comments (28)

  1. It’s SANTA!!!!!!!!!

  2. Anchor

    At first I thought from all of the lights near the bottom that it was most likely a reentering satellite or spent rocket stage. (Relatively slow, shallow trajectory and widely-dispersed pieces, plus the one above them as arrowed in the still-frame)

    Then I thought of Phobos-Grunt for a moment…

    Indeed, it’s probably a bright meteor.

  3. Georg

    All the reports agree on about 1 to 2 minutes crossing the sky.
    Are there meteors as slow as that? Many observers say space junk.

  4. Hans

    There are 5 Videos in in this thread from a german forum:

  5. Marco Langbroek from Leiden – The Netherlands – thinks that the fireball was nothing less that the decay of the r/b stage of the Soyuz, which brought this week three astronauts to the ISS, including the Dutch astronau André Kuipers. See:

  6. Anchor

    Looking over the reports, most observers put the trajectory west to east or SW to NE and a very long duration, 30 seconds to over a minute, and many report fragmenting…all consistent with a reentering satellite or spent rocket booster after all.

  7. Sally cumberland

    Saw it near Kaiserslautern germany. West to east. Extremely bright then fragmented when it got close to the horizon. It is sad how videos don’t come close to portraying how big and bright it was.

  8. Around 18:00 GMT, USSTRATCOM has released the final TIP for the Soyuz r/b and it confirms the identification: Reentry time for the object is quoted as 16:25 +/- 1 minute GMT at position 49 deg N, 7 deg E.

  9. Björn Lammers

    According to the article in the Dutch paper, people are speculating on Twitter that it may be comet Lovejoy, showing us once again that a lot of people have no idea what a comet looks like in the sky :-)

  10. M Koester

    I saw it together with my son.
    Very impressive. Nerver saw anything like this.
    Fore once I did not carry my smartphone around, so no pictures or video.

  11. Daniel J. Andrews

    Thought for sure this was a Santa joke…..nice timing.

  12. Jens

    I also saw it. I think the photos/videos don’t do it justice – it looked bigger and nearer. Very beautiful impression.

  13. Frank

    I’ve seen this “fireball” myself as well, around 5:30 pm, for about 15 seconds from a driving car, near Ootmarsum, The Netherlands. The view was to the southeast. The fireball was heading towards the east. We had to take a turn, so I lost sight.

    First I thought it was a plane, but the light was too large to be a plane. The core consisted of two horizontal lines, but with a glow / haze around it. It was much brighter than any stars (which I couldn’t see). I found it quite odd that the bright part appeared to be split up, but I thought a cloud was playing tricks.

    @Björn Lammers: did you happen to have studied at Wageningen? One of my class mates, who had the same name, was interested in astronomy.

  14. Marc

    Here’s the report I filed at IMO.

    I was traveling south by car at highway A27 between Utrecht and Gorinchem in the Netherlands near Hoogblokland when I noticed the trail in the sky through the clouds.

    At first I though it was a plane, but the colouring (yellow/orange) and appearance (no blinking lights, nucleus, trail) were a-typical for a plane. Speed was comparable to the speed of an airplane, perhaps a bit faster. The direction of the observation was eastwards, movement was south to north from my perspective.

    The observation lasted about one minute. It disappeared through the clouds, reappeared and finally disappeared again. Time indication is approximately 17:20 CET +/- 5 minutes. Estimate the height was about 30 (+/-10) degrees above the horizon.

    Seems consistent with the others; the time it lasted is rounded up (could’ve been 30 seconds or so).

  15. Rob

    I’ve seen a shooting star tonight around 7:30pm CET in northen Italy while walking my dog. I do not know if it’s related but it was very bright and lasted 5-7 seconds.

  16. corinnew

    Some good video of the fireball as seen from Luxembourg:

  17. Mike

    Me and my kids saw it around 1700 (I think) in the sky at Bitburg Germany. It lasted about a minute moving east to west. It was low, and had a pretty long tail. I have seen comets and falling stars etc. And this was different. Very cool to see, and as for my kids it was Santa! Indeed great timing!

  18. Bee

    We heard it on the radio in the form “The police tells you it was a meteoroid, so go back to dinner now, it’s not Jesus on a rocket or something.” Didn’t see it though.

  19. Ivan

    My family together with my neighbor’s family and I saw this big bright ball crossing the sky. it did look like a meteor from a movie, however, we saw it disintegrate with an explosion like effect, like a firework. That is why we thought was space junk or satellite, nevertheless, it was pretty amazing,scary and beautiful at the same time. We were located in Mourlatern (Kaiserslautern), Germany; the time was about 1730.

  20. Debbie

    We saw it fly over Germany (not too far from Homburg/Saar in a little town called Käshofen). It was traveling extremely fast and it appeared to be breaking up a little at the back.

  21. Björn Lammers

    @Frank: yes I did, started in 1993. Which Frank are you then?

  22. jan geirnaert

    it is santa claus :)

  23. Isobel

    I saw it at approximately between 17.30 – 17.40 hrs travelling in a north-easterly direction from Weingarten (Baden) Karlsruhe. It moved fast and the tail end looked like fireworks. At first we thought it was fireworks, then we thought it could be a plane going down, and seconds later agreed it must be a comet or meteorite. It disappeared on the north-east horizon.

  24. Giovanni

    I saw this with some friends in Italy, between Milan and Turin over the Alps.
    It was great!

  25. I saw this as well, funny how the event happened to “fall” on Christmas Eve 😉

  26. Hello.

    I’m looking for some footage with free use of that very bright fireball over Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, which happened around on December 24.

    Could you please help me?

    I need that because I’m preparing a report on Space debris for the web TV of the European Parliament.

    Many thanks in advance,

    Julie M.


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