The Daily Telegraph

Fiery portent or space junk? ‘Comet’ soars across northern sky

Unidentifi­ed object may have landed in park named after Queen Elizabeth

- By Sarah Knapton Science editor

THE Venerable Bede described comets as “stars with flames like hair, born suddenly, portending a change of royal power”.

His words may be 1,300 years old, yet as a green fireball streaked across the skies of northern Britain following Queen Elizabeth II’S death, they seemed oddly prescient.

Hundreds of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland reported seeing a blazing orb moving from the south to the west at 10pm on Wednesday, accompanie­d by a sonic boom.

Although not a comet, the event, which lasted about 20 seconds, is now believed to have been a meteor or debris from a Spacex satellite falling to Earth.

If it was a meteor, experts say it may have come down in a 50-acre Highlands park named after the late Queen.

Meteorites are named after the location where they are found meaning it would take Her Majesty’s name.

“We’ve not seen a Scottish meteor in over 100 years,” said Dr Áine O’brien, of Glasgow University.

“We have had texts saying ‘how amazing would it be if it was found in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park on Monday’. It was over Scotland, where she passed away.”

Throughout history, comets and strange lights in the sky have been harbingers of great change, often linked to royalty. In 451AD a comet accompanie­d the defeat of Attila the Hun, while in 1066, Halley’s comet appeared in the months before the Norman invasion.

While Harold II feared it was a sign of foreboding, William, Duke of Normandy viewed it as an omen urging him to soldier on. The comet was deemed so important to the battle, it was stitched into the Bayeux Tapestry.

Although today comets are known to be icy balls in eccentric orbits around the Sun, they still have the power to wreak psychologi­cal havoc. In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide in California, inspired by the passage of the Hale-bopp comet.

The UK Meteor Network said the fireball appeared to be moving too slowly to be a meteor and could have been the Spacex Starlink satellite that was scheduled to deorbit yesterday.

Meteors enter the atmosphere travelling at about 80,000 mph and vanish in just a few seconds, whereas space debris travels more slowly, so is visible for longer.

The Internatio­nal Meteor Organisati­on has calculated that its trajectory would have seen it land in the Atlantic south of the Hebrides.

Dr O’brien said the timing of the fireball may help inspire a new generation of scientists.

“The fact this has happened this week of all times just makes it extra special,” she added.

“If it means that one child who saw it takes an interest in science, I would be happy.”

 ?? ?? The streak of light seen across the sky over Motherwell
The streak of light seen across the sky over Motherwell

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