Look, in the sky, it’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s glowing blob of gas.
Blame the Chinese.
Researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in collaboration with colleagues from Harvard University have implicated a Chinese rocket in the creation of an orb that streaked through the skies over the 49th state early in the morning of March 29.
Commercial airline pilots inbound to the Anchorage International Airport from Seattle reported seeing it at 40,000 feet in the skies south of Ketchikan at about 3:1`5 a.m. and later in the skies south of Cordova.
A few admitted it “freaked them out.”
Reports of sightings from the ground later came from both Fairbanks and Nome.
One pilot described the object as “looking like a ball of plasma.”
That might have been close to what it was, according to Kathe Rich, director of UAF’s Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks, which has been shooting rockets into Alaska night skies since 1969 to study the ionosphere.
After looking at a variety of photos and consulting with an astronomer at Harvard, she said the conclusion reached was that the orb was most likely hot fuel “venting from the upper stage of a Chinese rocket that was launched into orbit earlier that day.”
Jonathon McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “downloaded the two-line element file that describes the Chinese rocket’s orbit and used it to predict where the rocket would appear in the all-sky images recorded by (UAF’s) Gakona camera,” she said, “the predicted locations matched where we saw the orb, and how it moved across the sky.
“Pretty much case closed.”
Chinese space program
“The rocket features two kerosene-liquid oxygen stages and four solid-propellant side boosters,” the website said. The roughly 300-foot-tall, two-stage rocket is far more powerful than its single-stage predecessors, the Long March 6.
The 6A was reported to have successfully placed in sun-synchronous orbit two satellites, a Pujiang-2 for “scientific experimental research, land and resources census and other tasks” and a Tiankun-2 for “experimental verification of space environment detection technology.”
The latter satellite appears oriented toward the development of “air and space defense systems,” Space News said. More launches of the new style rockets are expected as China expands its space program.
“The Long March 6A launch was facilitated by a new launch complex constructed specifically for the new rocket at Taiyuan,” Space News reported. “The new facility allows for more automated processes, such as fueling, and shorter launch preparations lasting 14 days.
“The launch was the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC) and China’s seventh of 2022 with CASC aiming to launch at least 140 spacecraft across more than 50 launches this year alone, including six missions to complete its modular space station. Commercial launch providers are expected to add to China’s launch activities.”
Given all that activity, Alaskans might want to prepare themselves for more orbs in the night sky.