IT was a bright burning light in the sky witnessed by thousands across eastern Australia, yet it was the first-hand accounts of Advocate readers that helped international star gazers identify a falling Russian Soviet military satellite.
Through the atmosphere it burst - almost two tonnes of rocketing space junk.
As it fell from the north-east and burnt up, witnesses said the white-hot ball of light left a trail across the clouded sky on Thursday around 6pm (AEST).
The Advocate's online posts quickly went viral as thousands of people reported seeing what was thought to be a large meteorite.
As quickly as it came, the fallen satellite crashed over the horizon out at sea.
A NASA trajectory estimated it would have eventually crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
Minutes after it passed overhead police fielded multiple calls that emergency flares were seen off the coast of Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Taree.
Sightings were quickly logged on the Central Coast, the Hunter Valley, the North Coast and throughout south-east Queensland.
Joe Skok from the Gold Coast captured the falling satellite on his dash-mounted car camera.
"It burned orange and red and lit up the sky, it was just incredible," Joe said.
"'Obviously we saw it better with the human eye but the camera vision gives an indication of how bright it was.
As online readers shared the news around the globe and checks were made with Australian observatories, an observer linked with NASA in the United States confirmed the identity of the burning object.
He said it was a former Soviet military communications satellite from the Molniya 3 series, which saw 55 satellites launched between 1974 and 2003.
6AM: A FORMER Soviet satellite that burned up in the earth's atmosphere is thought to have been the bright burning light spotted by thousands across the East Coast last night.
A US-based observer who spotted the Coffs Coast Advocate's online article shortly after the sighting on Thursday night used social media to quiz witnesses.
Projections showed a decommissioned Molniya satellite had a trajectory right over Australia and was due to crash into the Pacific Ocean off the East Coast.
Around 6pm, a large white light with a burning tail was seen to cross the sky.
The satellite was reportedly sighted from the Central Coast to the Hunter Valley, Mid North Coast, and throughout South-East Queensland.
After the Advocate posted the story online, it went viral on social media with upwards of 100 people confirming they saw the flying object which was initially thought to be a meteorite.
SOME READERS' EMAILS
I saw the meteorite out side of my house, in Bateau Bay on the Central Coast.
It fell through the sky very quickly, lighting the night sky up blue and then a very bright green. It was quite beautiful.
It caused a lot of people to stop driving on the main road outside if my house. Andrew Girkin
Hi there, I saw this in Coffs Harbour. I live near the jetty on the hills. I was sitting on our balcony when this bright light flashed and lit up the sky and came burning down very quickly, it was all over too fast! My husband didn't believe me until he saw the news article! Definitely something I will never forget. :-)) Billie-Jo Boyden
Myself and a friend saw this type of bright light same as the picture. This was from Hallidays Point. Lisa Hodges
We are in Newcastle, we saw the same light at Blacksmiths this evening also
I saw an object flying across the sky at around 5.30 to 6.00. It had a big orange tail and lit up the whole sky. It seemed really close. I live at Glenreagh and it was going towards Coffs Harbour way. It was amazing.
We saw the light coming down Buckets Way Tinonee... was awesome
I saw it from Benowa on the Gold Coast
We saw it while fishing in our boat on Wallis Lake near the Tuncurry Bridge , it lit up the whole lake a bright white and then faded to red/orange, it had a long tail like a large meteorite . It certainly was amazing .
Glen & Rina
I live in an old ghost town called Moleton, about 500 metres above sea level and 50-60 kilometre's from Coffs Harbour I saw the whole thing, it was almost a start like but it broke into three distinct pieces as it was falling and probably crashed in the ocean.
I would describe it as "A thing only the eyes can see"
Simply because no one can photograph it so fast.
Yes saw the bright object about 6.05 pm heading across north Bellingen towards Urunga
Just wanted to let you know that my kids and I were travelling from Guyra NSW to Armidale around 6pm and saw it
I witnessed a similar unusually large and bright object about eight weeks ago. It was heading South around 11pm. I spotted it at the roundabout at the intersection of Orlando St and (Hogbin Drive North).
My husband and I were travelling from Marulan NSW towards Tallong NSW at 6pm this arvo. I have written into blogs and googled for the last 2 hrs and finally got emailed this page about the sighting!
We saw a bright object falling from the sky it looked orange and a tinge of green. It looked like it hit the ground and as it did it got brighter! There were other cars on the highway I'm sure would if seen it too.
We were passing the Marulan Weigh Bridge which I'm sure would have CCTV cameras pointing in that direction.
Hannah Randall (very excited observer)
HISTORY OF THE MOLNIYA
Development of the Molniya-2M communications satellite, later called Molniya-3, began in 1972.
Flight trials began in November 1974.
The Molniya-3 group of four satellites was used to create the Orbita communications system for northern regions of the Soviet Union.
The land segment used a 12-metre diameter parabolic antenna, pointed automatically at the satellite using autonomous electromechanical equipment.
Although primarily for civilian applications, later versions were part of the Soviet YeSSS Unified Satellite Communications System.
Trials of this version began in the 1980's, with the system being accepted by the military in 1983-1985.
Molniya-3 used the Segment-3 three-channel repeater (cm-band, 4-6 GHZ).
The Molniya 3 spacecraft supported civil communications (domestic and international) while Molniya-1T were used almost exclusively for military communications.
Compared to Molniya-1T they had a slightly enhanced electrical power system and a communications payload of three 6/4 GHz transponders with power outputs of 40 W or 80 W. Molniya 3 spacecraft only originated from Plesetsk.
Until 1983 the Molniya 3 constellation consisted of only four satellites, which were essentially co-located with four Molniya 1 satellites.
When the Molniya 3 system was expanded to eight vehicles as part of the military's YeSSS system in 1983-1985, the new additions inaugurated the 155 degrees E ascending node geometry.
After the restructuring of the Molniya-1T constellations in 1991, the Molniya 1 and 3 systems were essentially the same from a deployment perspective and to some extent provided an inherent backup capability.
On the average Molniya-3 spacecraft were replaced slightly less frequently than their Molniya 1 cousins, representing either an extra 5 to 6 months of operational life, or a more casual attitude to having redundant civilian as opposed to military capability.
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