VERY bright and spectacular meteor seen over northern UK!

By Phil Plait | September 21, 2012 5:27 pm

Twitter just exploded with reports, pictures, and videos of an extremely bright fireball moving over the northern part of the UK at around 22:00 UTC. I’ve seen tweets from folks in Ireland, Manchester, and more. It was traveling east-to-west, and broke up into many pieces as it fell. No reports of it hitting the ground yet, though some pieces may fall all the way down.

Here’s the best video I’ve seen so far:

Other videos are not as clear but do show the same object (note the positions of the individual pieces as they move). Here’s one from Ross Shankland:

and another by Rowan Kanagarajah:

Here’s a picture from @Mr_Danger:

It’s too early to tell, but this may be a actual meteor – that is, a rock burning up – or it may be space debris, a piece of a satellite re-entering. Meteors tend to move quickly, zipping across the sky in a few seconds; they are moving at 20 – 50 kilometers per second and sometimes more. Orbital debris is slower, moving at less than 10 km/sec. Both have been known to break up (like the Peekskill meteor did, or the re-entry of an ATV in 2011).

I’ll update this as I get more info. But I have to say how jealous I am of everyone who saw this! And if you did witness it, you should file a report with the IMO, so they can collect all the info – it may help lead to finding meteorites, pieces that have made it all the way down to the ground!

My thanks to everyone who tweeted links to the pictures and videos.

MORE ABOUT: fireball, meteor

Comments (68)

  1. PeedroPaula

    I saw a much more spectacular meteor break-up from the mountains of Sequoia National Park around 1987-88 during the Perseid. It was pretty damn impressive!

  2. Fizz

    Wow- it’s been a good day for space stuff for me. I witnessed Endeavour fly around the SF Bay area today, and now the videos of these awesome meteors over the UK. Definitely a good day!

  3. Just saw this over Llandudno bay. Phenomenally bright and impressive. Only seemed to break up properly as it was overhead, but was spectacular from when we picked up low on the eastern horizon to the point at which we lost track of it as it headed behind us towards Ireland.

  4. Ben

    The slow speed suggests a satellite or rocket body reentering.

  5. I’m sure UNIT still has “John Smith” on speed-dial, just in case.

  6. Nicola

    yes I saw it AMAZING!!! – loads of reports on this site (enter 21 Sept 2012) …

  7. Horatio

    I saw this from Pembroke Dock, at just before 11pm, along with a bunch of night fisherman! 😀 Amazing. It tracked from east to west, a full 180 degrees field of view. I saw it from a bright green light, through to multiple orange trails of lights – it appeared to break up. It seemed to be tracking almost horizontal to the horizon, so it must have been coming in at a very shallow angle. It was visible for so long!

  8. kieron rodgers

    over mansfield huge fireballs approx 12 seemingly creeping accross the sky like a viscous lava! a giant firework. heading eastward about half a mile up

  9. Mike

    I’m not going out, just in case we’ve been overrun by Triffids.

  10. Barry Grayshon

    I just saw a meteor about 15 mins ago over Manchester. I only saw it for a split second. It was very bright.

  11. ian dickson

    Incredible fireball north to south in lanarkshire 11pm tonight very bright silent large tail looked like two balls very slow about 15 seconds viewed from traffic lights at strathclyde park absolutely incredible

  12. Rick Johnson

    East to west motion is extremely rare for space debris. Was it seen low to the south? If so it might be a spy satellite launched by Israel reentering but I consider that unlikely. I know of no space launches to the west other than those spy satellites by Israel launched at an inclination of 36 degrees to the west. Unless it’s path fits an orbital inclination of 36 degrees I doubt it could be space debris.

  13. Julian potter

    I was in Glasgow and at 23.00 we all saw what appeared to be a meteor getting burnt up flying due south of us, about 25 degrees above the skyline, it looked very very close. So much so that initially people thought it was a plane on fire. It travelled from East to West and was in view for about 7-8 seconds. It looked like a rocket firework going up with orange bits falling off all the time as you would imagine from a firework, but horizontal. Shortly after my freind phoned me from Leeds after seeing one pass his house window. Must be more than one as this was going in the wrong direction to pass over Leeds? If this is the case, how was it not detected in advance? It was not your normal shooting star, it was like watching a movie! I would like to hear a rational explaination!

  14. Phil06

    We saw it here from our back garden in Dublin 15. Lovely clear night. It came over slightly to the North travelling east to west at a low angle of trajectory. I would say space junk as it moved (in relative terms) slower than a meteor. But have no idea… It was in view for a good 15/20 seconds and yellow /gold in colour. By the time we seen it, it was in at least 11 distinctive pieces. Again, it moved slow enough that the pieces could be counted. Would love an email from Bad Astronomy if and when you guys figure out what it was…

  15. JD Warrell

    I witnessed it as well. I’ve been looking all over the net to find out what it was. I’m in Canada and it passed by around 20h00 E.S.T
    It definitely was very fast, it was bigger and brighter than a falling star that’s for sure.

  16. Iain Mcc

    i saw this late last night as well. it was fairly slow moving (enough time for me to get my camera out to just miss it lol ) i stay in greenock, scotland. it was moving east to west a little south of me. i was in sheer awe. from the two videos that are uploaded here its safe to say it passed by me alot closer
    i would love to know what it was

  17. Chris-L

    It was a really impressive sight, much larger and more vivid than those videos convey. From where i am (slightly north of Glasgow, Scotland) it went horizontal from left to right and took up a decent chunk of the sky.

    Its speed and trajectory had me thinking that it may have been a plane accident, but luckily that wasn’t the case.

  18. alan

    I saw this last night while at work around 10:00pm over walkden in manchester, thought at first that it was some kind if firework, traveling from east to west seemed to be breaking up as i watched it for around 20 seconds before it disappeared behind buildings. the front was roughly the size of a 5 pence piece and trailing flaming debris for around 12 inch’s behind, unsure how far away this was from where i observed it, but from the video’s i have seen posted what i saw was much bigger so just assuming that i was closer to the event.
    just to try help triangulate its trajectory i was facing north and it passed in front of me east to west.

  19. darren ohagen

    Saw a green light with a trail in Peterborough just before 11. Was moving quite slow across the sky and was very bright

  20. Stuart Lyons

    In the car with my daughter heading from Worsley to East Lancs Rd, noticed bright greenish object trailing orange srarks like firework arcing across the sky. It passed on a flat horizontal trajectory right over the car. It seemed so low we both duckrd in our seats slightly before it carried on out of view. We were really spooked and were talking about what it might have been – light aircraft/ helicopter on fire as close to Barton Airport / meter etc all the way home, would have been great to capture it on camera as it was such a unique thing to see.

  21. I saw this at 10.55pm yesterday. It was going east to west over Lancashire (went right over my house) and was breaking up. Very spectacular, seemed to be moving quite slowly as it headed out towards Blackpool and the Irish Sea.

  22. Paul

    I saw it over Manchester. Felt it was travelling more South East to North West.

    Stunning sight but so frustrated I fumbled my phone so much and ended up filming my own daft face instead of the event!

  23. Mike C

    We saw it here in Northern Ireland. Agreed the videos seem to show it tiny and way in the distance, but this thing streaked right above head, for us and seemed so low you felt you could reach up for it….I’m thinking its due to size constancy (the moon illusion). Slow and graceful were the words we were using seemed to last quite a while. Definitely heard distant, very low, boom/thuds a few minutes afterwards, would tht have been the sound barrier?? It was a few minutes as apposed to a few seconds afterwards. Fingers crossed this gets a mention on SGU, bob you gotta bring this up.

  24. Navid

    We live in Cheadle , south of manchester, and was taking shoppings out of the boot when my wife shouted “Look up to the sky!” and few firy spots were flying right to left and so very close! unbelivable!

  25. Rick Johnson

    Iaia Mcc says it was nearly overhead in Greenock, latitude ~56 degrees. That rules out any space debris as all launches that get that high are either in polar orbit (moving north or south rather than east to west) or were launched to the east giving them a west to east motion. Launching to the west is against the earth’s rotation and requires a lot more fuel to reach orbit so isn’t done except in the case of the Israel spy satellites which was necessary to avoid dropping rocket stages into populated areas or other nations. For it to be seen rather low to the south from Glascow as well it would be about 30 to 40 miles up when seen which is quite reasonable. The Canada siting is obviously a very different meteor as it was seen hours later (EST is 5 hours behind UT).

  26. Mike

    Far, far too slow to be a meteorite… Space debris of some sort.

  27. Emma

    We saw what looked like a train low over the Mendip Hills Somerset… travelling East to West… not sure what time late..before 11.30pm. intially I thought it was a plane breaking up near Bristol …. then a train .. it was amazing..

  28. Laurence

    I saw this object in Bristol, driving north it streaked across the sky east to west, green at first then exploding in a red/gold colour.

  29. Mr Dibs

    saw it as I was driving up the M5 near Bristol, thought it was a plane at first, but then it started breaking up…wasn’t able to stop in time to get pics or vid, but it was brilliant to see

  30. Nick Cross

    Julian, if the meteor was 80 miles up, it could be seen from Glasgow and Leeds (~200 miles apart) at the same time whichever direction it was moving in. It doesn’t have to pass directly overhead both locations. In fact, if your friend saw it out of his window, it certainly wasn’t directly overhead then but at an angle of 20 – 60 degrees is more likely, implying it was overhead at a location 50 – 150 miles away.

  31. saw this meteor at 22.45 in dalmellington,ayrshire.very bright,seemed to be breaking up as it passed by,it looked like it burned itself out around the dalcairney hills in dalmellington.never seen anything like it before,AMAZING

  32. andrew jackson

    saw this thing? fall last night (21/9/12) around 11pm it looked to be towards the north of the town i live in ( Keighley, West Yorkshire, UK), looked bright green in colour, looked to hang in the sky before dissapearing, not got a clue what it was but it has made the local news on BBC look north

  33. Adrock

    Indeed Nick Cross, it was seen by many people in Grimsby (cheery name), which is further south.

  34. Equiliari

    Now compare the quality and number of videos and reports to what you might find in UFO sightings…

  35. Scott Manley

    This was observed over Continental europe before it was seen over the UK & Ireland, I first heard about it from a friend in the Netherlands.

  36. gurnygob

    it could not have been seen in Continental Europe before it was seen over the UK & Ireland, it was traveling the other way. There were reports of it in the Northern part of north Ireland and then seen from different parts of main land uk and Dublin. According to time line of sighting it was going from north to south or west to east not the other way.

  37. kev fox

    I live in Hull and saw this. My friend who lives in norway text me to say he’s seen a huge fireball in the sky. i went outside and within about 5 mins i saw it fly by east to west, huge green ball of fire with a long burning trail. these video’s really dont do justice to what i saw though. i proptly called my friend in iceland and we had a good chuckle about armageddon. and the 2012 mayan prophecy while he watched it burn up.
    Dont think we’ll get to see many sights like this again in our lifetimes, i feel pretty chuffed to have seen it.

  38. gurnygob

    also, one man from N Ireland, interviewed on radio, reported seeing more lights just before sunrise Saturday morning.

  39. This was most likely a genuine slow meteoric fireball, not manmade space debris.

    The persistently reported east to west movement is incompatible with all but (literally!) a handful of satellites. Only objects in a retrograde orbit can move east to west, and those are very few: the two US FIA Radar satellites and a number of Israeli Ofeq/Shavit (none of which are decay candidates, and the Ofeq/Shavit have too low an orbital inclination to be seen over NW Europe anyway).

    Also, USSTRATCOM does not list a decay candidate for this date. Which again is an argument against this being a reentry of man-made debris.

    While unusual for a meteor, such a long duration is not unprecedented (e.g. Peekskill). So it almost certainly was a very slow meteoric fireball entering under a very shallow angle, like Peekskill.

  40. James Evans


    No way. This is something sent to Earth from the UFO mothership the ISS live feed recently caught on video.

  41. Maury Markowitz

    Robert, wouldn’t a Molniya sat in mid-orbit move in this direction relative to the ground? They peak at 55 degrees N IIRC, so maybe…

    Wait, no. They’re at their peak of orbit at high lat.

  42. Angela

    this was the secret Rosat 3 satellite from Germany which was finally brought down manually at 22.00 hrs 21 Septemeber

  43. Robert

    It seems we had a Mag -12 bolide in Finland at around 03:55 (EEST) on 21.9.2012.

    A few pictures from the Ursa Astronomical Association, along with an accompanying story (in finnish only) can be found here:

  44. ian

    I saw this last night, looked out my window and there it was very low missed the multi storey flats at whiteinch like an orange glow with a trail of orange at least 100m long travelling very slowly.

  45. Mark Beresford

    Looking North from Macclesfield I first saw the bright light from the “Meteor” from my lounge window. I went outside and watched it track level East to West from the direction of the Pennines. Iwas confused at first as I could hear the roar of a plane overhead and I thought it was an aircraft in trouble. As it tracked west it was as if flares were shooting off from both sides and it appeared to break up and the light went out. It was visible for maybe 15-20 seconds and moving reltively slowly and from my perspective appeared to be at just a few thousand feet up.

  46. Steve Deighton

    I saw it! I was driving home at around 11pm and saw it overhead in Cheadle, Staffs. Going east to west. It looked only 100m off the ground. Glad I’m not going mental! Lots of choppers overhead shortly afterwards. If anybody finds it. I want s piece!

  47. Nic

    I was flying a line flight to Birmingham when we saw lights appearing on the right hand side of our aircraft. At first I thought it was another traffic and was about to manouver to avoid a crash, but then it moved across our flightpath, thereby glowing and breaking into more pieces, trailing a lot of smoke or dust. The glow changed from a bright greenish white towards an orange glow when it finally disappeared towards the west.
    I am very curious to find out what it was, wether meteorite or spacejunk, but I could not find any info on planned reentries.
    My colleague found an article about Express MD2 and Telcom 3 satllites that never made it to a proper orbit in August and are about to reenter.


  48. Ali

    I saw it when I was waiting at a bus stop in Dublin city centre. Moving East to West, around 22:45 so same time as people in the UK.

  49. I have posted some pics of similar greenish meteors trains, well before artificial satellites, at my recent blog here:

  50. Man, the BBC goes all out to promote Doctor Who.

  51. stuart mclean

    I saw what looked to me at the time to be a plane breaking up as it looked to low to be a meteor or something re-entering the atmosphere. I saw it at Peebles Scotland around 10:45pm (21st Sept 2012). nobody saw it with me which was a tad frustrating.
    It was very large maybe 10-15 separate pieces, with one main bigger piece. You could clearly see the flaming trails, not just a distant glow tail. It seemed to travel across the sky for a long time and disappeared over the horizon/tree lines. It did seem too low and slow to be a meteor. Wonder if any bits actually landed? It was a exceptionally clear night and early on the same night I saw a shooting star obvious in its speed/height and the dim glow but this later sighting was a different thing altogether.

  52. sam

    I was in the lake district (near kendal), and was already looking at the sky. When me and my partner first noticed it, it was a bright white light stationary not far above the horizon. Looking at maps of the area, it must have been at at about E or ENE. It was obviously to bright to be a planet, so we guessed it was a plane. It looked like it was coming in to land, though there is no airport near by. After maybe 10 seconds it was clear that it was moving, it was getting brighter and rising in more above the horizon. Then we saw the orange fragments behind it. I’m not sure if they were obscured before, or if that was the point it started to break up. As it came above us more fragment broke off. A few minutes later (we guessed 2 minutes, but its hard to know) we heard a faint double boom, presumably a sonic boom.

    Speedwise it was a like a low flying plane, but obviously it would have been going many times fast, due to the height. It seemed to be moving much slower than a typical meteor, but its hard to just their speed as they are on visible for such a short time. From the brightness, length of time it was visible, and the number of fragment that broke off, i think it must have been pretty large and so i doubt the man made satellite hypothesis.

  53. anyone spotted those giant robots, or are still hiding? 😛

  54. Infinite123Lifer

    7001: A space debris odyssey? And the Phil9000 runs the Discovery. 😉

  55. Benedict

    I saw this over Bristol on my way into the city centre, at first I thought it was a firework, then I thought it was a plane in a mess, which slightly worried me because my parents were on their way back from Turkey. It did look really cool though, pretty big pretty fast with a long trail behind it. =D I love science!

  56. I’ve had trouble posting this account, but I’ll try again…

    I was watching TV with the light on in my living room with the curtains on the North-facing window open. The fireball was bright enough to catch my eye in my peripheral vision.

    I live just South of York, and at this point it would have been somewhere along a line passing North-South through York. The object flickered bright blueish white with a long gold trail and brightened before breaking up into still very bright pieces leading gold streaks across the sky. I would estimate it was at an elevation of around 30 degrees, and was in my field of view for around 10s during which it moved smoothly and continuously from East to West through and arc of around 80 degrees without dropping appreciably before I lost sight of it. I estimate that at its largest/nearest the fireball was a little smaller than my thumbnail at arms length. A little smaller than the moon would appear, but much larger than any other object in the night sky.

    After the meteor had passed, I tweeted within 30s. The tweet is timed at 10:56.

    I’m hoping that someone will get to the bottom of it. Most of the BBC reports have been rather dismissive talking about “tiny fragments” of space junk. It doesn’t really accord with what I saw which was very big, bright and visible across large parts of Northern England, Scotland, Ireland and North Wales. I’ve seen many shooting stars and this was something entirely different.

  57. Colin McGookin

    I was looking out of my house in Dromara Northern Ireland admiring the starry night when it emerged as a bright white ball above a tree 2 fields away. I thought it was a plane coming straight towards me and that it was going to crash into us. I was yelling for my son in the next room to come and kept watching as it rose in the sky and began to break into several white balls with orange tails. It looked enormous and like the balls had patterns on them and it also looked like they were moving in slow motion. They went directly over my house and I ran to grab my son and we raced outside. The balls became more orange now as they headed west and it looked like they were in a perfect military formation, very steady. We didn’t hear any sound except the mooing of cattle and watched as they got lower to the horizon. We both said that we had seen something very special. I was shaking for quite a while from my initial fear that it was a plane going to crash into us.

  58. Some additional arguments as to why this was certainly a meteoric fireball and not man-made space debris:

  59. chris carr

    I saw this from Sunderland. I thought it was a firework at first, then it didn’t explode. Was pretty damn cool whatever it was.


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