What's that in the sky: UAE residents stumped over flaming object overhead

Theories abound after bright light flashes over UAE and meteor breaks up in atmosphere

The object in the sky, as seen over Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Courtesy Kat Risner.
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UPDATE: Falling Russian rocket now chief suspect for blazing lights seen over UAE 

It's not a bird, and it's not a plane - the flaming object that put on a show in the night sky over the UAE on Monday has been confirmed as a meteor.

UAE residents initially puzzled over the object that whizzed over the country just after 7.30pm, musing over whether it was a meteor, a space station, or an unidentified object.

While meteorologists in the region were yet to comment on the spectacle, the public was quick to put forward their theories.

Kat Risner was showing her cousin around Sheikh Zayed Mosque when she noticed a bright light flash overhead.

"We were just walking and we saw a few people looking up. It was like a bright light and then something breaking off.

"We were just wondering what was going on - is it a shooting star or a firework? My daughter thought it was the world ending."

Falling space debris from a Progress rocket used to supply the International Space Station. Reem Mohammed / The National.

However, at about 9pm, Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre confirmed the object was in fact a meteor, sharing a video of it flying through the sky.

A statement from the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) also went on to confirm that a meteor had penetrated the Earth’s orbit.

It said it was a natural and regular phenomenon at this time of the year, as meteor showers become active during this period, peaking by October 20.

The GCAA clarified that meteors were big metal rocks that burn completely in the atmosphere or might even reach Earth and collide with it.

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Nicola Hood was with friends in Khalifa City when the object zoomed overhead.

"At first it looked like an aeroplane with sparks coming out the back, then it started to break up and looked like lots of different shooting stars," she said.

Jane Browne likened it to "a weird sight, like a slow moving firework that didn’t fizzle out".

Social media users were equally as puzzled. Videos and photos have been posted across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter - but nobody could agree on what exactly they had seen.

The lights seemed larger and clearer over Abu Dhabi than Dubai. They appeared to be multiple points of orange light moving together, and in a straight line.

At the centre of the cluster one point appeared to be glowing red. There was no sound.

Speculation ranged from a large meteor shower to the break up of the 8.5-ton Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace”,  Chinese space laboratory.

Recent reports have said that the Chinese satellite was out of control and could enter Earth’s atmosphere anywhere between three months and 24 hours.

The sighting also coincided with Orinoid meteor shower which is composed of debris from Halley’s Comet. However the timing and the speed of the UAE objects do not at first seem to match the Orinoid meteors, which move at great speed and are not due for several days.

It is not clear either if the Orinoid shower is visible from the UAE.