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Chinese Space Junk Puts on a Fireball Show in U.S. Skies

Monday night's re-entry of a Chinese rocket stage sparked fireball sightings from Arizona to Alberta, skywatchers said.

The third stage of a Chinese rocket that sent an Earth-monitoring satellite into orbit last December finally fell to Earth on Monday night, with a fiery atmospheric re-entry that sparked sightings from Arizona to Canada, skywatchers said.

More than 140 observations were sent in to the American Meteor Society's website, veteran satellite-tracker Ted Molczan wrote in a posting to the SEESAT-L mailing list. The re-entry looked like a slow-moving fireball, breaking up into bright bits of light just before 06:00 GMT Tuesday (10 p.m. PT Monday, or 1 a.m. ET Tuesday).

Photographer John Arnold told he was "chasing the aurora ... near Craig, MT, and while shooting a 20-second exposure I turned around to look at the moon."

"To the east I caught something, and realized this very slow-moving meteor was coming across my field of view." Arnold scrambled to grab his camera and tripod, run across the highway and set up his equipment to capture a 40-second exposure of the fireball streaking above the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in western Montana.

For more photos of the fireball and the night's other cosmic sights, check out's gallery.



— Alan Boyle