Viral video shows trails of fire in the sky over Montana

Earlier this week, the citizens of Montana were treated to an impressive and intriguing event. On Tuesday evening, trails of fire appeared in the skies of Montana. The American Meteor Society has documented approximately 29 reports of flaming objects. And reports have come in from Montana as well as other states including Idaho, Wyoming and Oregon.

Montana skies were filled with streaks of fire earlier this week

The footage began to appear around 10:08 p.m. Tuesday evening and was particularly strong near Bitterroot Valley, Livingston and Park County. People have reported seeing the trails on Lake Seeley, Great Falls, Helena, Lincoln and Pray. Additionally, Idahoans have reported seeing flaming sky streaks from Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Rexburg, Shelley, and Stanley.

While this event was undoubtedly thrilling, the explanation behind it is a bit more mundane. According Spaceweather.com, the contrails may have been caused by the fuel tank of an old Russian rocket. The site reports that shortly before the explosion and subsequent fiery rain on Montona, the US Department of Defense issued an impact forecast for something called “BREEZE-M DEB (TANK)”.

The DoD’s Space Track website predicted the tank would fall into Earth’s atmosphere on July 13, at approximately 04:06:52 UT. Based on the prediction, the fire trails in the sky over Montana seem to support this moment.

The fuel tank of an old Russian rocket returns to Earth

As the solar cycle continues to peak, we may see more space junk falling out of orbit. Image source: JPL

The fuel tank in question had been orbiting the planet for nearly 10 years. It was originally part of the Russian geostationary communications satellite Yamal 402, which was launched on December 8, 2012. Unfortunately, recent increases in the Sun’s solar activity appear to have accelerated its orbital decay. As a result, it hit the atmosphere and exploded, causing streaks of fire across the sky.

The display was still gorgeous, though, and several people sent photos to news sites like Fox23. Some also shared the video on Youtube, including Jordan Peper. This isn’t the first time rocket boosters or other space junk have returned to Earth, exploding upon re-entry. Sometimes returns are even planned, like NASA’s retirement plan for the ISS in 2030.

While this type of event isn’t exactly rare, seeing it in person would have been phenomenal. And none of these back-to-school events are ever exactly the same. With the solar cycle continuing to accelerate, it’s possible we could see more orbiting junk returning to Earth in the coming months. As such, keep an eye on the sky when you’re on the go. You never know what you might see.

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