Space & Innovation

Space Junk Reenters Atmosphere, Dazzles Las Vegas

A mysterious ball of light soared over the Las Vegas skyline Tuesday evening.

A mysterious ball of light soared over the Las Vegas skyline Tuesday evening, and before you ask - no, it wasn't the same object the NORAD will be tracking later this week.

In a Facebook post, the United States Strategic Command explains that the flash of light was actually a Russian SL-4 rocket body burning up as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere.

ANALYSIS: Mystery Space Debris to Make Fiery Return to Earth

The flaming junk, which first appeared around 6:00 p.m. local time, was visible across parts of Nevada and California. Dazzled stargazers throughout the region took to social media to share their accounts of the unexpected show.

There are more than 21,000 pieces of space debris larger than 4 inches across currently orbiting Earth. As part of its Space-Track.org initiative, the USSC maintains a comprehensive database of 16,000 of these "on-orbit cataloged objects," tracking their movement until they burn up.

NEWS: An Orbital ‘Pac-Man' to Chomp Through Space Junk?

"That service is a key element of our commitment to provide space situational awareness for spaceflight safety," the agency explains.

Little can be done about the debris currently in orbit; space agencies around the planet are actively investigating ways to minimize the amount of orbital debris that future missions leave behind.

This blog originally appeared on DSCOVRD.

Last night (Aug. 12/13), the Perseid meteor shower peaked, putting on a show for planet Earth. While passing through the trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, our atmosphere was pummeled by the dusty debris, producing some spectacular meteors and even fireballs. Here are a few international views of this spectacular annual event.

MORE: What ARE the Perseids and Where Can You See Them?

In the run-up to last night's peak, in the skies over Joshua Tree National Park, near Los Angeles, Calif., photographer and Discovery News reader Sean Parker captured several meteors over a 60 minute timelapse, composed of 180 photos. Looking north, the startrails form a circle with the occasional meteor cutting through. You can check out more of Parker's timelapse and astro-photography

on his Facebook page

.

The skies over California weren't all as peaceful as Joshua Tree, however. In this long-exposure photograph from the town of Clearlake, which is located north of San Francisco, photographer Stuart Palley captured this dramatic view of a Perseid meteor flash across the sky over the Jerusalem Fire which has burned tens of thousands of acres of land in Lake and Napa Counties. California is currently undergoing a historic drought, creating the perfect conditions for wildfires across the state.

MORE: 18 Wildfires Rage Across California

Photographer Robert Raia

captures a Perseid falling in the direction of the Milky Way over New Jersey.

MORE: Russian Meteor Strike Aftermath

John Entwistle (

@jme1169

) also spotted an impressive Perseid flash alongside the Milky Way over Jersey Shore, New Jersey.

While waiting for a Perseid meteor, this astronomer in Bulgaria uses a red light so not to interrupt his night-sensitive eyes.

MORE: EXPOSED: Taking Astronomical Pictures

A lovely Perseid meteor emerges from the city glow over Wokington, Cumbria, UK, as photographed by Twitter user

@mckeatingphoto

.

Clear skies in Bulgaria aided not only the viewing of the Perseids, but also an object of man-made origin. This streak is neither a meteor or aircraft, that's the International Space Station making a bright pass over the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

MORE: Company Aims to Offer On-Demand Meteor Showers

Twitter user

@SBUX75DEVILDOG

photographed a Perseid fall in the skies over Bristol, Conn.

Meanwhile, in Germany, a meteor streaks over the Pilsum Lighthouse in the town of Pilsum. The band of stars stretching overhead is the Milky Way.

MORE: Astronaut Photographs Perseid Meteor... From Space

Also in the clear skies over Pilsum, Germany a meteor flashes over windmills near the Pilsum Lighthouse.

MORE: Photographer Captures Vaporizing Camelopardalid Meteor

A bright fireball shines blue in the Pilsum, Germany, skies. Fireballs are larger meteors that can be seen to erupt as they speed through the atmosphere. Sometimes, depending on their size and speed, a fireball "bang" can be heard on the ground.

MORE: Comet Siding Spring Showered Mars with Meteors

In the Kaijiang County of Dazhou, southwest China's Sichuan Province, a Perseid meteor is seen erupting in starry skies.

Although most of southern Britain was hindered by cloudy skies, skywatchers in Patching, West Sussex, managed to catch a glimpse of the Perseids.

A faint, low Perseid as seen near Oakdale, Calif., is obscured by light pollution by a nearby town.

A meteor erupts over the Maculje archaeological site near Novi Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A Perseid over a windmill farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Republic of Macedonia.