Object in sky over Hamilton County raises question of meteor or UFO

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HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. — Several people in Hamilton County caught a glimpse of a burning object flying through the sky early Wednesday morning.

Pictures and video of the object have been shared on social media, leading many to speculate that it could be anything from a meteor, to maybe a UFO.

An astronomy professor with Butler University says that the speed of the object as it passed overhead, gives away the answer to what it really is, just a piece of space debris reentering Earth’s orbit.

“Obviously yes it is doing some streaking across the sky, but because it’s moving relatively slow compared to what we see say in a rock coming into the atmosphere or perhaps a meteor or something like that, they move much quicker than this. And this is leaving quite a debris trail,” said Butler University Professor of Physics and Astronomy Brian Murphy. “And what it’s reminiscent of is say one of the SpaceX Dragon capsules when they re-enter, whether it’s astronauts or a cargo capsule from the station when they land off the coast of Florida.”

Murphy says its speed is far to slow to have come into Earth’s orbit from the outer solar system.

If it were to be a rock or meteor from outside our orbit, the object’s speed would be around four times faster than that of the object seen early Wednesday morning.

The professor adds that with all of the debris from satellites and rocket launches, its common for it to enter our atmosphere, and expects it to become more frequent.

“I suspect we’ll see a lot more of these occurrences in the future as we get more and more satellites, particularly as we get to what’s called space internet,” Murphy said. “So we’ll see much much more of these things as the private space business gets going.”

The broadband internet system SpaceX is building, called Starlink, could add up to 40,000 more satellites in Earth’s orbit. Other companies are trying to build systems as well, and as new satellites go up, older ones will be deorbited, or forced to fall out of orbit and burn up in the atmosphere.

Despite it not being from outer space, such a sight streaking through the sky is still eye-catching.

“It is a spectacular sight when you see these things,” said Professor Murphy. “I haven’t seen something reenter like this but I have seen what are called fire balls, which are large pieces of space junk, not from our orbit but from asteroids, those are spectacular when they come in also.”

If this has you interested in doing some stargazing, there are locations nearby where you can get a better view of the stars.

The Holcomb Observatory at Butler University is open every Friday and Saturday night for those wanting to learn more about astronomy.

Tickets can be purchased in person beginning at 7:30 p.m., and visitors are required to wear masks.

The Kirkwood Observatory at Indiana University in Bloomington and McKim Observatory at DePauw University in Greencastle also have hours set aside for the public.

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