Mexican Meteorite: Was it Russian Space Junk?

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UPDATE (4:00 am ET, Feb. 12): It would appear the initial reports of a “30 meter wide” crater may have been incorrect. No photographic evidence of the location of this mystery crater has emerged and AFP journalists are reporting that “nothing was found after a through search of the area yesterday.” However, it remains probable that space debris originating from the Russian Cosmos 2421 spy satellite did re-enter over Mexico — accounting for the eyewitness accounts — but very little debris may have made landfall, if at all.

ORIGINAL POST: According to media sources in Mexico, a 30 meter wide crater was left after a meteorite impacted approximately 100 miles to the northwest of Mexico City in the municipality of Ahuazotepec, Puebla.

Eyewitnesses report seeing a light and then a “roar” as the alleged meteorite hit, swaying nearby buildings. According to one translated source, a bridge had been damaged by the impact that occurred at 6:30 pm local time on Wednesday evening. Windows were also shattered as a result of the blast.

Local authorities reported that emergency phone lines were jammed with scared people calling to find out what was happening.

The Mexican army arrived at the scene and cordoned off the area according to another news source. The possibility of a downed aircraft has been ruled out by the authorities.

However, new reports from the region suggest that the impactor wasn’t a meteorite at all, but it did come from space.

José Jaime Herrera Cortes of the Mexican Space Agency has gone on record to say the object was a piece of space junk originating from a Russian satellite.

Cortes indicates that the U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed the object was a piece of the Cosmos 2421 satellite that was launched in 2006. As of 2008, 15 fragments of the spacecraft were being tracked.

The piece of space junk, cataloged with the ID number 33006 was expected to pass over Mexico at the approximate time of impact.

Personally, I find it strange how there are no photographs of the impact site and few details about the damage that has been done (although the impact site does appear to be in a sparsely populated region). Also, the reports are sketchy, so before we can start drawing any conclusions we’ll have to wait for an official announcement.

The Cosmos 2421 Spy Satellite

NASA’s Orbiting Debris Quarterly News newsletter from 2008 goes into some detail as to the nature of Cosmos 2421. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a spy satellite and the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN) had detected “significant fragmentation” of the three ton object earlier that year.

During the April-June period another two fragmentation events were detected, increasing the number of pieces of detectable junk over the size of 5cm to 500.

Cosmos 2421 was the 50th spacecraft of its class to be launched since 1974.

According to the report, “nearly half (22 out of 50) of the spacecraft have fragmented at least once, typically within a few months of the end of their primary missions.” Bizarrely, the cause of these fragmentation events remain unknown.

Updates pending…

Original source: Bad Astronomy