Strange Things Happening in the Sky

An unidentified object which fell in southern Campbell County on Tuesday, Dec. 8. (Courtesy Sunshine Ocheltree)
An unidentified object which fell in southern Campbell County on Tuesday, Dec. 8. (Courtesy Sunshine Ocheltree)

Sunshine Ocheltree’s son was convinced he saw a meteorite nosediving through the sky yesterday morning outside their home in southern Campbell County. Short of that, he figured it might have been an alien.

Or something dramatic like that.

Turns out, however, that they may have spotted a piece of space junk falling from the sky, according to Major Toni Brown, mission pilot with the Civil Air Patrol and aerospace education officer.

Space junk, per EarthSky.org, is trash from spent rocket stages, broken satellites and micrometeoroids that gets in the Earth’s orbit. The amount of garbage in space is growing apparently, prompting scientists to start working on methods to combat the threat of space junk colliding with orbital debris.

A second theory regarding the unknown object may be aircraft contrail, said Campbell County Emergency Management Coordinator David King, who thought it looked a bit like part of an contrail that might have cut through a layer of cloud as it changed elevation.

“Contrails show differently based on air temps at the different altitudes,” he wrote in an email to County 17 Wednesday.

Either way, there’s more mysterious space activity ahead in days to follow.

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Watch the skies this month

In the coming weeks, residents of Wyoming will have the opportunity to gaze upon incredible celestial wonders, one of which reportedly hasn’t been seen since the middle ages.

At this very moment, the annual Geminids Meteor Shower can be seen on clear nights as the earth passes through asteroid debris in the wake of 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid that some experts consider to be a burnt-out comet, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

This year, the Geminids Meteor Shower will peak late Sunday, Dec. 13, and during the early morning hours the following day. Viewing will be especially eventful as the meteor shower will occur during a new moon, NASA officials said.

For best viewing, NASA suggests residents find a safe location away from bright city lights, lie flat on the ground with their feet pointing south and look up.

Meteors could appear anywhere in the sky, but most will appear to originate from the constellation Gemini, northeast of the constellation Orion. Look for the two closest and brightest stars.

Later this month, residents could witness something that is nothing short of spectacular.

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So far in 2020, Jupiter and Saturn have appeared joined at the hip, traveling the skies together all year. During the first three weeks of December, these two planets will move ever closer together, and can be seen low on the horizon to the southwest around an hour after sunset, according to NASA.

On Dec. 21, these two planets will appear less than one-tenth of a degree apart, making both the planets and their moons visible through a small telescope or a pair of binoculars. It’s an event called a great conjunction that occurs once every 20 years this century.

But this year marks the greatest, great conjunction in the next 60 years, with the Jupiter and Saturn not appearing this close together until 2080, NASA says.

There’s more. The event will result in one super-bright point of light as Jupiter and Saturn converge and appear to become a double planet, according to an article published in Forbes.

It’s reportedly the first time the spectacle will appear this bright since March 4, 1226.

Forbes also reported that some experts, including the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, believe the “star of Bethlehem” in the bible story of the Three Wise Men could have been another, more rare, great conjunction, one between Jupiter, Saturn and Venus.

No matter what you believe, be sure to head outside this month after sunset and look to the southwest and to the north. You’ll no doubt see some incredible celestial events if the skies remain clear!