It seems that the light show residents saw Friday night over Guam skies may not have been a meteorite after all, but debris from a Chinese commercial rocket launch falling back to earth.
Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense is citing Chinese media reports about “a heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket” carrying a test satellite payload that blasted off from the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan at 8.45 p.m. Friday night
According to Homeland Security, this commercial space launch occurred at 10:45 ChST and corresponds with an FAA Notice to Airmen that was active from 10:43 p.m. until 2:41 a.m.
Tim Cornelison, Air Traffic Manager, Guam Air Route Traffic Control Center, said the following official communique was issued from FAA:
“The China National Space Administration has planned a rocket launch. Debris from this launch will fall within an area defined as 1425n/14853e to 1518n/14906e to 1547n/14655e to 1454n/14643e to point of origin. In the interest of safety, all non-participating air traffic are advised to avoid the notamed (notice to airmen) area. If aircraft under ATC jurisdiction should anticipate clearance around the notamed area. Sfc-unl, 27 dec 12:43 2019 until 27 dec 16:41 2019. Created: 24 dec 16:32 2019.”
Friday night lights may have been debris from Chinese commercial rocket. https://t.co/GWo23r43Fo https://t.co/NrG6lEsfmK
Cornelison said the times referred to in the notice are UTC coordinated universal time and not local time.
It is unclear whether notice was given to local authorities as well.
But Cornelison said the notice to airmen are distributed worldwide on an aviation network and also publicly available.
He added that the basic rule is that all pilots check NOTAMs before they fly and all airlines check NOTAMs prior to releasing, or dispatching flights.
“The atmospheric phenomena that was witnessed in the vicinity of the Marianas occurred around 11:25 p.m. ChST,” GHS stated in a news release without elaborating whether the Chinese rocket launch and the “atmospheric phenomena” were connected.
There was no mention of whether the “atmospheric phenomena” that GHS was referring to were the lights seen descending down the sky Friday night, which had earlier been described by a National Weather Service meteorologist as a meteorite that was breaking up.
GHS did assure that there is no direct threat to the Marianas from the launch and that more information will be provided as it becomes available.
According to a Dec. 27 report on the website SPACEFLIGHT NOW, the third launch of China’s heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket successfully delivered its satellite payload to orbit Friday, clearing the way for the launch of a Chinese Mars rover and lunar sample return mission in 2020.
According to the article, the 187-foot-tall (57-meter) rocket is the most powerful in China’s fleet and it lifted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island in southern China at 1245 GMT (7:45 a.m. EST; 8:45 p.m. Beijing time) Friday.
The National Weather Service has also not issued any conclusive statement on whether the lights were a meteorite and acknowledges in its Facebook page that the lights may be debris from an earlier Chinese rocket or booster test.
The Friday night lights came amid speculation about a North Korean “Christmas surprise” missile test launch that didn’t materialize.
A number of PNC Facebook viewers had expressed concern about Guam’s early warning system.
One commented: “What if it was the real thing? No alarm system activated. What’s the use of the alarm system test?”
Another commented: “Where was the Marianas Region Fusion Center in all of this? The launch was announced, there were NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) issued by the FAA, and other information available they should have been aware of and able to know what was happening instead of the wild rumor storm. It’s their job to gather information and intel on threats to the island and region.”