Mysterious fireball lights up Singaporean skies

Picture credit: Facebook/CloudSpottingSG & SkySpottingSG/Priyanka Vijoy)

27th May 2024 – (Singapore) Last Friday night, residents across Singapore were treated to a spectacular sight as a bright streak illuminated the sky. Numerous individuals captured footage of what appeared to be a “fireball” or a “bright meteor” descending towards Earth, leading to widespread excitement and discussions about the event. The fireball was likely an object from space that entered Earth’s atmosphere and subsequently burned up. However, identifying the exact nature of the object remains challenging.

Dr Abel Yang, a senior lecturer from the Department of Physics at the National University of Singapore (NUS), suggested that the phenomenon could be attributed to a comet or an asteroid fragment. Without any remnants of the object, precise identification becomes difficult.

Dr Cindy Ng, another senior lecturer from the NUS Physics Department, concurred that fireballs are commonly caused by meteoroids entering Earth’s atmosphere. She differentiated between meteors, which are caused by meteoroids, and fireballs, which are brighter-than-usual meteors.

While some speculated that the object could be space debris or part of a defunct satellite, Dr Yang and Dr Ng dismissed this possibility. They explained that re-entry of man-made space debris is distinct from the observed event, as such debris typically moves slower and is monitored by radar to minimize risks to populated areas.

Regarding the size of the fireball, both experts estimated it to be relatively small, possibly less than a few meters in length and under 1 meter in size. The absence of reported injuries or property damage supports this assessment. Dr Ng referred to a previous incident in Spain and Portugal, where the European Space Agency (ESA) identified a fireball as a comet based on trajectory analysis.

In terms of altitude, Dr Yang suggested that the fireball was observed at a relatively high elevation, potentially around 60km to 100km. Dr Ng noted that meteors typically occur between 76km and 100km altitude, disintegrating at altitudes between 50km and 95km. The fireball in Spain burned up at an approximate altitude of 60km.

Although witnessing a fireball is undoubtedly a memorable experience, Dr Yang clarified that such events are relatively common, particularly with smaller impactors. Dr Ng added that there are likely over 500,000 fireballs occurring worldwide each year. However, most go unnoticed as a significant portion happens over the ocean, covering approximately 70% of the Earth’s surface.