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

Image: Fireball
A long-exposure photo shows fiery debris from a Chinese rocket stage streaking through the skies over the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana. John Arnold

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).

Rocket Re-Entry Lights Up Sky Over Utah 0:54

Photographer John Arnold told SpaceWeather.com 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 SpaceWeather.com's gallery.

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— Alan Boyle