6 Jan 2019

Suspected Russian satellite lights up the night sky

8:32 am on 6 January 2019

The bright lights that lit the North Island's night sky yesterday may have been the remains of a Russian military satellite, a University of Auckland physics professor says.

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Photo: Twitter / @janwalzer

The soaring light was visible for several minutes around 9pm and was captured by cameras filming the cricket match between the Black Caps and Sri Lanka at Mt Maunganui.

While it was widely reported to be a meteor shower, a Russian military early warning satellite would have been over New Zealand at the time and had been predicted to re-enter Earth's atmosphere, physics professor Richard Easther said on Twitter.

He said if it was re-entering space junk, it was a large enough piece of debris that someone will likely know it has gone missing.

Numerous astronomy and satellite-tracking websites say it was in fact the re-entry into Earth's atmosphere of Kosmos 2430, a Russian missile early warning satellite launched in 2007 as part of a programme by the the Russian Space Forces.

The satellite was designed to identify missile launches using optical telescopes and infrared sensors.