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Saturday, July 11, 1998 Published at 06:35 GMT 07:35 UK


Sci/Tech

The Z from outer space

Lighting up the sky: a meteorite enters the atmosphere

A large meteorite is being blamed for hundreds of sightings of bright lights in the sky along the west coast of Britain on Friday evening.

Initially the authorities were baffled about the source of the lights, which looked like the letter Z or the number 2.


Belfast Coastguard Duty Watch Manager Bungy Williamson: "It was intriguing"
It was not until early on Saturday morning that an airline pilot who landed at East Midlands airport was able to provide a rational explanation.

The pilot reported seeing a large meteorite entering the atmosphere as he was flying to the UK from France.

He claimed to have watched it breaking up and leaving a long trail in its wake which was then formed by winds into shapes resembling the letters.

Throughout Friday evening police and coastguards from Cornwall to Scotland were inundated with calls from people who spotted the lights, though most came from people living around the Irish Sea.

Coastguards in Belfast said they had received dozens of 999 calls and admitted they had seen lights in the sky which they watched for an hour above the north coast of Ireland.

A spokesman said the lights formed a large Z-shape. "It was very prominent and was due north of the coastguard station. We were able to watch it from the windows.

"I can say that I have never seen anything like it before.

"It was a larger shape than the moon but as we were unable to measure the distance it was impossible to judge its actual size. I made a drawing of the object which shortly before midnight began to fade.

"It appeared to be moving very slowly westwards. When we first saw the object it was not completely dark. It was higher than the clouds and occasionally it was obscured by passing clouds."

Another report was received by Teesside Air Traffic control tower near Middlesbrough who reported seeing an object resembling the letter Q in the sky west of their position.

In a statement, the Department of Transport said: "The sightings were from as far apart as Cornwall to the Clyde, west to Belfast and east to Leeds.

"Air traffic control systems were contacted and it was established no aircraft were missing or overdue.

"RAF Fylingdales early warning station reported no undue activity, as did Jodrell Bank.

"We can only summarize it is space debris or a comet."

Departing perhaps from the dryness associated with the civil service the statement added: "Coastguard and air traffic control are satisfied this is not aircraft related, so we can only assume whatever it is comes from 'out there'."



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