It now appears that Sunday night's celestial light show in the eastern sky along the East Coast came compliments of Mother Nature and not the Russians.
"The bright light that was reported was not the result of any trackable manmade object," Lt. Justin Jessop, spokesman for the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, said yesterday.
On Monday, Geoff Chester, spokesman for the Naval Observatory, told reporters that the lights and sounds in the sky visible around 9:30 p.m. Sunday and reported by hundreds of people, was most likely part of a Russian Soyuz rocket booster.
The Russians launched a Soyuz from Kazakhstan last Thursday, carrying a fresh crew to the International Space Station. Chester did say that it was also possible it was a meteor.
Fredericksburg-area residents were among many in Virginia who reported seeing huge fireballs low in the sky, with blue, red and green hues and causing a thundering sound.
Jessop said Vandenberg tracks over 19,000 manmade objects in space, including rocket boosters or motors that separate from spacecraft on their ascent to orbit.
For example, the space wing is still tracking a tool bag that astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper dropped during a spacewalk from the Space Station in November.
The 20th Space Control Squadron Detachment 1, a tenant command at the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren in King George County, is involved in tracking space objects.
It is a backup space command and control center, and operates nine remote field stations of the Air Force Space Surveillance System.
A spokesman at Dahlgren referred questions to Vandenberg.
The confusion over whether the great Virginia fireball Sunday night was a meteor or a Russian rocket re-entry has been resolved — in favor of a meteor.
On Monday Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory said he was quite sure that the brilliant, booming fireball was the re-entry of the spent Russian Soyuz rocket that recently carried crew members to the International Space Station. See the story about Chester's claim on Space.com. It was picked up by much of the media.
However, Baltimore Sun reporter Frank Roylance weighed in, quoting satellite tracker Ted Molczan:
"The U.S. Strategic Command's final report on this [rocket] decay predicted decay over 24° N, 125° E, [near Taiwan] on Mar 30, within 1 minute of 03:57 UTC (11:57 PM EDT).
"It did pass within sight of Virginia and Maryland Sunday night, but at about 9:26 PM EDT, about 2.5 hours before decay. It was 137 km high, but that is far too high to have begun burning. Burning begins a little below 100 km. The object was in Earth's shadow, so it was invisible, because it was not burning yet."
Moreover, the fireball reportedly lasted only about 5 to 8 seconds. Re-entering satellites move more slowly, last much longer, and generally cross the whole sky.
Then the final word came Tuesday morning from the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base:
"The JSpOC tracks over 19,000 manmade objects in space. The 'bright light' that was reported on the East Coast on Sunday, 29 March at 9:45 p.m. EST was not a result of any trackable manmade object on reentry."