A few Australians might have assumed the worst last night as a truck-sized fireball raced across the sky. But it wasn't a meteorite spelling out Earth's doom—or the plane crash some feared on Twitter—but "object 40077," an ejected piece of Russia's Soyuz rocket, which on Tuesday was used to launch a weather satellite. The three-ton, cylindrical piece of space junk, visible to some for at least 10 seconds, apparently drew some sympathy. "It's belly-flopping on the world's atmosphere at 18,000 miles an hour. That really hurts," Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tells CNN.
NASA had issued an alert yesterday noting the object would fall to Earth over Victoria and Tasmania, the Sydney Morning Herald notes, but scientists seem split on what became of the fireball. One who called it a "very rare and exciting" event said the "main part" of the junk likely fell into the ocean near Brisbane. Another, however, noted a sonic boom heard in western New South Wales after a five minute delay suggests it disintegrated. McDowell, meanwhile, said "debris, if any survives, might have made it to south Queensland." Space junk falling from the sky isn't often spotted "because most of the Earth is either ocean—or very sparsely inhabited," or else it falls in the daytime, McDowell added. (Read more Soyuz stories.)