Assuming you had other things on your mind this past weekend, you may have missed the foofooraw of a Russian rocket booster that re-entered over Europe on Saturday. It was part of a rocket that took new crew up to the International Space Station a few days ago, and was expected to come back down at that time. It was seen by a lot of people, because it happened at 5:30 p.m. local time on a clear night, so a lot of folks were out. It was also bright and spectacular… as you can see for yourself in this amazing footage taken in Germany:
Pretty cool, isn’t it? Make sure to set it to the highest resolution, and make it full screen. When it’s in focus (cameras sometimes have a hard time focusing on objects at infinity) you can see parts of the booster breaking off and making their own trails as they burn up. The bright star passed by the fireball is Jupiter (the two stars above it are part of Aries), and then you can see it pass under the Pleiades, and then the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus.
There are lots of other videos of this amazing event; a search on YouTube will show you quite a few. This one shows the smaller pieces better than any video I’ve seen so far, though.
Things like this happen pretty often, but not generally over heavily populated areas at such an opportune time in the evening. To my knowledge, no one has ever been seriously hurt or killed by falling debris like this; what you’re seeing is happening very high in the atmosphere, and most of the pieces burn up. Keep in mind, too, the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft – which was supposed to go to Mars, but never left Earth orbit – will be coming back down in early January. Reports on exactly when still vary a bit, and we don’t know where it will re-enter. I’ll have more on that when I know more.