A discarded Russian cargo spaceship has reportedly burned across the night sky of the Arabian Peninsula, drawing gasps from Dubai to Riyadh before it broke up in the Earth’s atmosphere and scattering in the Indian Ocean.
The unmanned Progress MS-07 came as planned on Monday, after it delivered 2.5 metric tons (2.75 tons) of water, food and scientific equipment to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
However, its 80-second appearance in the skies of the United Arab Emirates stunned onlookers.
Even a day later, government officials still did not correct their earlier statements identifying the object as a meteor.
The disposable spacecraft had blasted off Saturday from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch complex in Kazakhstan.
Its rockets and stages earlier harmlessly fell – largely unnoticed into the atmosphere, said Hasan Ahmad al-Hariri, the CEO of the Dubai Astronomy Group.
After unloading it at the space station, astronauts sent the spaceship to its death as was planned.
The path down was timed perfectly for it to be seen beginning from 7:35 p.m. on Monday, al-Hariri said.
It streaked across the Dubai skyline behind the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, drawing both stunned and anxious reaction from those watching.
“It was quite visible for the public,” al-Hariri told The Associated Press. “It’s not something you see every day. It was beautiful to see that thing up in the sky, disintegrating into pieces.”
Soon, “people were banging me with calls,” he said.
The governmental Dubai Media Office, citing the sheikhdom’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, rather quickly described the aerial display a “meteorite.” The UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement that “the meteor was a natural and regular phenomenon at this time of the year.”
But that wasn’t true…
It was, in fact, the 6.5-meter (21.3-foot)-long spaceship breaking up some 140 kilometers (87 miles) in the sky.
The space center has not commented.
For al-Hariri, the incident shows the importance of educating the public about the wonders of space. He said that despite the UAE’s rapid development, its empty deserts offer beautiful viewing of the stars at night, including glimpses of the Milky Way.
“It was something that was really worth to look at,” he said. “It was beautiful to see.”
Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center confirmed that a meteorite has passed through the skies of Dubai pic.twitter.com/acPvBRTIp7
— Dubai Media Office (@DXBMediaOffice) October 16, 2017