A fireball seen over many parts of the northern UK has been confirmed as a meteor after a day of confusion about its identity.
The fireball was visible above northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland as it blazed across the clear night sky just after 10pm on Wednesday night.
It travelled 300km above Wales, the Irish Sea and Belfast before crashing into the Atlantic near Islay, according to new calculations by the UK Meteor Network.
The network’s initial calculation suggested it was space junk that could have come from Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite programme. But it withdrew that theory after collecting more data.
John Maclean, an astronomer at the network, said: “We’ve analysed it from many more angles. It is definitely a meteor. Probably a small piece of an asteroid that’s broken off an asteroid. It came in at an asteroidal orbit.”
He added: “We think it probably ended up between 50 and 100km off Islay. It’ll be at the bottom of the ocean now.”
He said the fireball was initially mistaken for a space junk because it was travelling more slowly than a typical meteor, and videos of the sighting suggested it broke up higher and earlier than a meteor.
He said: “The speed and the way we break it up, is what threw us initially. It was quite slow which is more consistent with a space junk, so thought too slow for a meteor.
“The velocity was 31,950mph, which is more consistent with space debris. Hence our initial thoughts.”
On Thursday morning Maclean had speculated the fireball was a spent Starlink satellite burning up in the atmosphere as scheduled.
But later he said: “We went away and looked at any possibilities for space debris. There wasn’t one that could possibly give us space debris. It was definitely not SpaceX. There were two Starlink satellites that were due to de-orbit, but they wouldn’t have come down near the UK. They came down over North America.”
The network received about 800 sightings of the fireball. Maclean said: “Most people who saw it probably had a rare experience. The velocity of this one and the way it broke up was a little bit strange.”
In a statement, the network said: “The fireball over Northern Ireland and Scotland last night was definitely a meteor. The fireball observed yesterday above the UK lasted over 20 seconds and travelled north-west, passing directly over Belfast.”