Spectacular 'meteor' shower over Britain
Thousands of people across the UK have reported huge fireballs streaking across the sky in what is thought to be debris from satellites or spacecraft burning up in the upper atmosphere.
The spectacle was visible just before 11pm across much of the country, from Caithness in the far north of Scotland to as far south as Norfolk, the Midlands and south Wales.
Coastguards in Northern Ireland took calls from people who saw the object from Coleraine on the north coast to Strangford Lough in the south east. Durham Constabulary said it was “inundated” with calls from “concerned” members of the public.
Picture of the balls of light in the sky above Llantrisant taken by Emily Solman.
Eyewitnesses described a huge fireball hurtling across the sky, from east to west, before breaking up into as many as 100 pieces.
Diane Martin of Rainworth, Notts, said she saw “a bright yellow and orange ball”. She considered calling the police before her husband went online and found that others had seen the same thing.
She said: “We only saw the one. It was quite low as well. It wasn’t that far away to be honest. We thought something was actually going to come down in the village.”
Emily Solman, 16, from Llantrisant, near Cardiff, was in the car with her father when they spotted gold-coloured lights in the sky.
She said: “At first we had no idea what it was. It looked like a train floating in the sky with all the lights - like something from Harry Potter - but then we realised what it was.
“It broke up in the sky into about 13 glowing balls. It was like a load of slow motion shooting stars. It lasted for about 15 seconds and they went lower and lower in the sky.
“Eventually we couldn’t see them any more. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen. Unreal.”
Brian Guthrie in Grangemouth, near Edinburgh, said it appeared to be something “pretty large breaking up in the atmosphere”.
He said: “I’ve seen shooting stars and meteor showers before, but this was much larger and much more colourful.”
The Kielder Observatory in Northumberland reported a “huge fireball” with as many as 100 pieces of fragment in the sky.
Stephen Chetrit, a 46-year-old charity worker from Thornhill, near Dumfries, said he had spotted the display while he was watching television at his home at around 10.45pm.
He said: “I had been in my living room with the lights off when I saw the lights outside my window.
“I didn’t know what it was, so I initially called the police to ask whether they’d had any reports of any UFOs or anything strange.
“They told me they’d had lots of calls from people reporting the lights, and that it was a meteor shower.”
Astronomers said they had not been expecting a naturally-occurring meteor shower on Friday night – and believed the object was most likely to have been man-made.
Greg Smye-Rumsby, an astronomer with the Royal Observatory, said: “The next meteor shower isn’t due until October 7, so my guess is that this is a piece of human-made space debris, rather than a natural object.
“It’s possible that it could have been a rocket or something that has never left the earth’s atmosphere.
“It appeared to me that the object was actually breaking up as it travelled across the sky, so I would be surprised if it didn’t burn up before it hit the ground.
“It’s still fairly rare to see something like this though – it usually only happens once every five to ten years.”
Tim O'Brien, associate director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Manchester, said it was unlikely the object would have hit the ground as it would probably have burned up in the atmosphere.
He said: "There is no real consensus yet on whether this was a piece of space junk or a man-made material.
"It would have been a bigger chunk of something. Typically the bigger things are space junk.
"This was probably 80 miles up burning as it entered the atmosphere. Mostly these things do burn up in the atmosphere.
"If anything did come down, it would have landed in the ocean."