Bolide over Sydney and Melbourne 10 July 2014

July 11, 2014

Bolide 10 July 2014 path
The above map gives a rough guess of the bright meteor or fireball or bolide that passed over eastern Australia at about 9:42 pm AEST on the evening of 10 July 2014. Diagram Nick Lomb, map courtesy of Google

On the evening of 10 July at about 9:42 pm AEST numerous people in the eastern part of Australia saw a bright moving object in the sky. There were dozens of reports on the Sydney Observatory Lights in the Sky page and we thank those people who reported their sighting. As well reports were made to emergency services, news media and of course on Twitter.

Reports ranged from the vicinities of Melbourne, Sydney,Hobart, Parkes and according to one ABC reporter, Brisbane. The most credible reports gave a direction of movement from south-west to north-east. This is consistent with the rough guess for a trajectory given on the map above.

Some of the reports indicated that the object was seen for ten seconds or more which is exceptionally long for a meteor sighting and others indicated a slower speed than they had seen in previous meteor sightings. A “tail” was reported by many people; this is a dust trail or “train” left behind by the object as it moves through the atmosphere. These trains can sometimes be seen for ten minutes or more.

The object was likely to be a piece of an asteroid or space rock hitting the Earth’s atmosphere, moving almost parallel to the Earth’s surface along the above path. It would have been 100 km or so high so that it could be seen for hundreds of kilometres. As it travelled along the intense heat of friction would have broken off bits of it and this was seen, especially from the Sydney region.

A very bright object passing through the atmosphere is called a bolide or a fireball. It is the same as a meteor but brighter as it is a larger object.

An object hitting the Earth’s atmosphere must be travelling at least at the escape velocity from Earth which is 11.2 km/sec or 40,000 km/hr. When space junk reenters the atmosphere it is moving slower so the reported slow speed of Thursday evening’s bolide could indicate that it was space junk.

It would be exciting if parts of this object did survive the journey through the atmosphere and could be found. Most likely though the smaller bits that broke off the object disintegrated while the main part fell into the ocean north of Brisbane.

Update 11:20 am 11 July 2014

As indicated above, the bright object seen last night was likely to be space junk as it appeared to be travelling slower than the minimum speed of a meteor impact. Low Earth satellites circle at around 7 km/sec while the minimum speed of a meteor is 11.2 km/sec, the Earth escape velocity. In addition, the shallow impact angle of the object last night also suggested a reentry from Earth orbit.

It is now clear that the object was the third-stage rocket that helped to take Russia’s second Meteor-M weather satellite into orbit on 8 July 2014. This was a massive metal object as can be seen here so that it is not surprising that it was so bright in the Victorian/New South Wales night sky as it burned up.

The report that the rocket was seen over Brisbane is now most unlikely. There is another report that a sonic boom was heard near Cobar about 600 km to the west of Sydney suggesting that the rocket disintegrated in that vicinity. That maybe correct, but it may not as Cobar maybe a little too far from Sydney where the object was clearly seen. If metal debris from the rocket is found in the vicinity of Cobar that would be proof of the location of the rocket’s break up.


There is a project based in Western Australia to try to find fallen meteorites, called the Desert Fireball Network. They are keen to pin down the track of the Russian rocket and possibly locate any remnants. They have an app called Fireballs in the sky for download in both the App Store and Google Play and ask people to log their observations if they’re close to where they saw the fireball and can remember in which direction they were facing. Just change the time to ~9.43pm Thursday when they’re asked to edit a sighting at the end of the process.


26 responses to “Bolide over Sydney and Melbourne 10 July 2014

  • Fireball across South Bondi, from south west to east, at 8:38 pm on Friday July 11. Did anyone see this? Or know what it was?

  • I saw remnants of this in far north qld friday 11/07/14 at 7pm. Very bright white ball trailing 2wards ground for about 5secs.

  • Hi , I was resting at a truck stop with my kids just out of St. George. When I looked out my window I said to my son look at the plane, then I looked at it closer I was like that is strange it had glow behind, I was like what is that!!! The object looked like a plane coming in for landing and you could see all the window lights that’s why I thought it was a plane , it was moving real slow and it was long like a plane as well , when suddenly it started to stretch out and break up ,you could see all the bits breaking up from it , then it disappeared , i could see it all so clear I must of been close to it . Very cool!!!!!

    • Thanks Megan. Thanks for your report. Can you clarify where you were? St George, Queensland? And any idea what direction you were looking?

      • Hi Nick, I stand by my break up sighting from Gosford nsw at 300*. If we could see this from the east coast it must of travelled and broke up really high 50km plus??

        • Hi Ray. I would guess that the rocket was around 100 km high when it started to break up. So it would have been possible to see it from Gosford and Sydney even if the rocket was near Cobar and Bourke at the time, provided that you and the people in Sydney saw it low in the sky.

  • Hi,

    We were a group of 6 people camping on the Darling River about 30km south of Bourke and saw the event clearly while sitting around the campfire coming in roughly from the south straight over the river heading northwest. We estimated we saw it for approximately 50 seconds to a minute both solid and breaking up and heard the sonic boom about 4 minutes after it had passed. It was a spectacular view as we basically had no surrounding light to interrupt our view!

  • The trajectory shown can’t be quite right as I was in Dubbo and saw it in the western sky moving north. I didn’t see the whole ‘show’ only about the last 15 seconds.

    • Thanks Trevor. You are probably right about the trajectory as the one I drew was done quickly as a rough guess based on some very early reports.

  • I was driving north to Cairns tonight and saw an amazing shooting asteroid/star light up ( around Gordonvale) and shoot across about a quarter of the sky. I have never seen anything like this, its was really big, maybe due to closeness or size. But I saw it “shoot/light up” with a thick orange tail, the colour you would see in the flame in a fire. It was a clear night. I couldn’t believe my eyes for a minute!

  • I was out walking along the Tamar river on Thursday 10 July, at a little after 9.30 PM. The bright object passed over a little to the east of where I was in Rosevears, but nearly overhead. It moved on what is close to the aeroplane flight path from Tasmania to Melbourne, i.e. further east than your map suggests, and at that time moving a little to the west of north, so it is not surprising that it was seen in Deniliquin and Cobar. It was totally silent over Tassie.

  • Just wanted to comment that we saw the burning object with a long tail and it was starting to disintegrate as it went past our farm low in the sky coming from the south and heading north west. This was about 9.40-9.50pm. The tail burnt out we guessed somewhere between Condobolin and Cobar.

  • Now if this was Space Junk still not plausible how it would still retain its levitation level whilst apparently descending to earth

    • Hello Saso. I do not know what you mean by ‘levitation level’. The rocket hit the atmosphere almost tangentially so that it moved through it almost parallel to the ground. Eventually, it disintegrated and some remaining pieces of it would have fallen on the ground or into the ocean.

  • I was travelling on the road between Wicheproof and Stawell around 10pm on the 6th of July and saw a blue ‘meteorite’ with an orange tail at about a 40 degree trajectory heading north to my right, fairly low in the sky. I have just been looking up on the internet today to see if anyone else saw it. It lasted for about 2 seconds. It looked very much like the NSW sighting that is on a you tube post. But the weather satellite was launched on the 8th of July ??

    • Hello Kylie. Thanks for your report. Yes, the weather satellite was launched a couple of days earlier and the rocket third stage must have been circling the Earth since then progressively losing energy due to friction with the atmosphere and getting closer to the Earth’s surface.

  • Thank you for this blog Nick!

    Can you explain why an object hitting the Earth’s atmosphere must be travelling at least at the escape velocity from Earth?

    • Hello Shane. Thanks for your comments. To answer your question consider a rocket that is to be sent from Earth into orbit around the Sun. It must be given a minimum velocity of 11.2 km/sec to have sufficient energy to overcome the pull of Earth’s gravity. Similarly, if a rock circling the Sun approaches the Earth at zero relative speed the Earth’s gravity will pull it towards the ground and as it does so accelerates it to 11.2 km/sec. To put it a little more technically, the negative potential energy due to gravity must be balanced by the positive kinetic energy of motion so that the overall energy is conserved. I hope that this helps.

  • Nick- Pretty sure it was a piece of space junk mate -3rd stage of the Meteor #2 rocket – Sonic Boom heard in Coobar – about 5 minutes after event – indicating to me that came down around a 100km from Coobar

    • Thanks for letting me know Brian. Much appreciated. I did indicate in the blog post that the object’s relatively slow velocity made it likely to have been space junk and have now updated the post to indicate that it was the rocket third stage. It is amazing that we found out what the object was so quickly.

  • we saw the object as well, we live on the central coast of NSW, and it was amazing.. We saw a very long thick tail and as it was passing in the west going north it appeared to be breaking up, but still had the same intensity and size until we lost sight due to trees etc… It certainly wasn’t getting smaller or fading or heading in a downward direction as you would expect, it was just cruising along.

    • We live in Deniliquin NSW and saw the burning object at about 9.44. It was moving slowly and lasted about 20 seconds. There were bits breaking off it and looked amazing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *