Relax, guys. That fireball from a few weeks ago? You know, the "rocks with glowing red and orange streaks" that everyone noticed one night? Experts agree it was just a Russian spy satellite breaking up over the Rockies. Everything's fine, nothing to see here.
The fireball was seen the night of September 2nd, according to dozens of reports from around Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana, seen on this American Meteorological Society map. Today, the AP published a report from a number of experts who all say it was part of a Russian satellite designed to shoot images and send them back to Earth, ala the system used by the US military in the 1960s. The AP helpfully lays out this news in a question/answer format, starting with Wait, Russia is still spying on us?!, to which experts answered "duh:"
Yes. They're basically spying on the same things they kept an eye on during the Cold War, said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org. "Deployed hardware, aeroplanes, ships, tanks, factories, new intelligence facilities, all that stuff," he said. The satellites are looking for targets for their nuclear weapons, Pike said. "They're looking for the same things that our spy satellites are looking for."
That's really no huge surprise, in reality. We have hundreds of satellites, Russia has also has hundreds, and the rest of the world is launching more every day. According to Russian news and Spaceflight101, this particular satellite was called Kosmos 2495, and was similar in design to this craft:
But the news is especially interesting in light of growing tensions between Russia and the US right now. In fact, Russia even commented on the explosion—giving possibly the sassiest response possible to a Russian news agency:
One can only guess about the condition representatives of the so-called American Meteor Society were in when they identified a luminescent phenomenon high up in the sky as a Russian military satellite.
In other words, Russia just told America to go home—you're drunk. [AP]
Lead image: American Meteorological Society.