Between 0:10UT and 0:13UT on Wed. March 31 many people in Ireland saw two bright (mag -1 or brighter) lights travelling slowly across the sky. One advanced amateur astronomer, John Fitzsimons, from his observatory a few miles outside Sligo town on the west coast saw the object rise in the NW and pass 70 deg. up in the SW 35 seconds later, eventually setting in the SE. He reported four other mag. 4 objects trailing behind it. The whole assembly left a glowing white 'mist' that persisted for 3 or 4 minutes. John is one of the country's best astrophotographers (if not the best) and has built an impressive observatory around his Celestron-11. He seems convinces it was a satellite re-entering the atmosphere and burning up.
Based largely on John's sighting Astronomy Ireland believed the satellite re-entry was the correct interpretation but a number inconsistencies have led Leo Enright (BBC Ireland correspondent) to suggest it was a special type of aircraft possibly Aurora or Dipper (Dipper?). We're no aviation experts so maybe you can help? (This story has made the front page, national TV & radio)
One inconsistency is that the two bright lights appear to be the same brightness and flying 'abreast' separated by 2 to 3 deg. rather than one after the other. If re-entering 50 miles up this puts them at least 2 miles apart can fragments get this far apart during re-entry?
Secondly, a sighting was made from Glastonbury, Somerset (U.K.) which puts the object heading out across the English channel - BUT AT 0:40UT which is 300 miles in 30 minutes i.e. 600mph roughly. Leo Enright suggests that this in particular shows it must have been a craft of some description. He hypothesizes that a military craft like Aurora/Dipper possibly got into trouble in the Atlantic and headed toward Shannon airport as a possible landing site, was told not to land such a craft in a neutral country and possibly continued on to the base in Spain?
Nothing showed up on radar in Shannon airport (or so they say).
Could a natural object in space 'graze' the Earth's atmosphere at such a speed?
Leo Enright says the 'four mag 4 objects' following the craft are consistent with reports of other sightings of Aurora or more likely Dipper and the effects seen in its 'exhaust' contrail.
Is there any chance it could still have been a satellite re-entry (or natural object)?
Sorry, in a rush. Forgot if I asked one very important question: Does anyone know if ANYTHING re-entered the atmosphere early on UT day of March 31 (or even March 30)? Or who I could ask this question of and get a conclusive answer?
Tony Ryan, "Astronomy & Space", new International magazine. Astronomy Ireland, P.O.Box 2888, Dublin 1, Ireland.
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