Space junk

This amazing display of part of a rocket burning up in the atmosphere above Washington and Oregon Thursday at about 9 p.m. startled spectators.

Was it a plane? Was it a helicopter? What in the world was that? Along with many other questions were on the minds of Pacific County residents who witnessed a spectacular display in the night sky on March 25, around 9 p.m.

Living in Raymond, I reside along the regular flight path of Lifeflight and other helicopter ambulances. So a bright light in the night sky isn’t a strange thing to see and is usually accompanied by an engine putter.

Typically as the usual curious journalist, I will walk outside to hear the helicopter fly overhead, but this time as I spotted a familiar light in the sky, I asked my wife to peek. As she went to the window and looked out, she didn’t say a word, and at my urging, went out the front door and immediately asked, “What the hell is that?’

I, of course, jumped up and ran out the door and what I saw was something you only see in movies. Off in the distance to my southeast was a very bright light moving to the northwest, and as it reached the middle of the sky, it appeared to break apart. The only way to describe this is to imagine the biggest firework you can think of, and that’s what I and everyone else who was fortunate enough to see it saw.

The object broke apart and flickered, sparked with dazzling flashes, and lasted close to 5 minutes as it moved northward. Reports came in from across Washington state and throughout Oregon of residents witnessing the unbelievable experience. Dozens of Pacific County residents have also reported first-hand accounts of spectacle.

The first assumptions were that it was a massive meteor that broke apart upon entry into the atmosphere leading to questions of whether or not it hit the ground and, if so, where? However, the answer to the question was an abnormal one, according to Pacific County Emergency Management Director Scott McDougall, who was indeed bugged by this pesky journalist.

McDougall, after hearing the first-hand account, reached out to multiple sources across Washington and Oregon. He was informed by his counterpart in King County, who spoke with both the Federal Aviation Administration and agencies, that it was likely a meteorite.

“We know it was something at an atmospheric level,” he said. “It was seen in King County, and it was seen all the way down into southern Oregon, and everybody is reporting pretty much the same phenomenon [as has been described]. Lots of sparks, and it looked like something was breaking up in the air, and it was probably a meteor or something of that nature hitting the atmosphere and breaking up at a very high level.”

McDougall called back a short time later and reported that an astronomer out of Oregon, who verified the phenomenon, confirmed that the object was in fact not a meteor but was instead a rocket, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, that reentered the atmosphere and failed its de-orbit burn.

No precious metals will be searched for this time, darn.

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