© Darren Mills / GFW Advertiser
A meteor, space junk, satellite or alien spacecraft? A number of people, including Harold Watkins, saw what appeared to be a fireball Monday night in Botwood. He said the object had been moving west and disappeared behind Bishop's Falls, and did not have a tail behind it. One possibility is that the object was a communications satellite with a bright reflective surface.

Whatever it was, Harold Watkins and others in Botwood were treated to the sight of what appeared to be a fireball in the sky Monday night.

"I live in an apartment off Twomey Drive, and this lady said to me, 'look, do you see that over there?' and when I looked, it seemed to be one big ball of fire going west," he said. "It was about 1,000 feet in the air. It looked very close to us."

Mr. Watkins and others had returned from Botwood Day ceremonies that evening, which had included fireworks at the Botwood Airbase. But he and the other people who had returned to outside his apartment said the fireworks had finished by the time they left the base.

"It was going west, and looked like it would have ended up in the back of Bishop's Falls," he said. "There were three of us coming back from the base and just getting out of the car. And the lady next door in an apartment next to me said 'see that in the air,' and when I looked, it was one big ball of fire and it was moving around and around."

Ron Silver, a media representative for NAV Canada, responsible for air traffic control operations across the country, said he contacted ATV at Gander International Airport after he was notified of the incident by the Advertiser.

"They didn't report anything unusual," he said.

Besides the far-fetched possibility of alien spacecraft, the most likely possibilities are space junk, such as trash from old spacecraft and decommissioned satellites and meteors, all burning up on re-entry in Earth's atmosphere.

"Although we're still 10 days from the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, you can

get meteors and fireballs anytime," said Randy Dodge, secretary of the St. John's centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).

The Perseids are regular meteor showers, which happen when Earth's orbit brings the planet through a body of "dust" leftovers from broken-up comets and other astral remains.

It's quite possible, however, what the observers was a functioning satellite, which many people from all walks of life have mistaken for meteors or even UFOs.

"It could be an Iridium 55 phone satellite," said Garry Dymond, auditor with the St. John's RASC and also a regular tracker of meteors and satellites. "It was visible from your site at about (10:30 p.m.) at a magnitude of -8, bright enough to cause you to see your shadow on the ground. Venus has a magnitude of -4 and the full moon has a magnitude of -12. It came from the northeast heading west, and its orbit is 770 kilometres. There were a few -8 visible satellites from your area that night and the next. The description of the flight line having no tail but getting bright and then dimming makes me believe that what they saw was an Iridium satellite and the sight they saw is referred to as an Iridium Flare."

The Iridium communication satellites are oddly shaped, with three polished door-sized antennas at different angles. The forward antenna faces the direction the satellite is traveling. Occasionally, an antenna reflects sunlight directly down at Earth, creating a quickly moving illuminated spot on the surface below of about 10 kilometres in diameter. To an observer this looks like a bright flash, or flare in the sky, lasting for about a few seconds.