Nope, definitely not this. Comet Leonard, Swan Hill, Victoria, December 21. Photo: Michael Mattiazzo

Sunday December 12 at 7:07 am in the southern sky, a smear of light traced a gentle arc toward the horizon.

In the few seconds I watched, I thought it was Comet Leonard before realising I was looking in the wrong direction for that.

Then before I could get out my camera, the travelling (head?) end turned into a large bright flash of light.

As a novice stargazer, it was all very exciting, but I didn’t know what I had seen. So, I emailed Scott Young, Planetarium Astronomer at the Manitoba Museum, to get some answers.

According to Scott, it could have been either a bolide or space junk. As he explained, “A bolide is the much-bigger cousin of a typical shooting star, but much more spectacular and rare to see. Space junk is much more rare to see, and usually much slower and brighter. If it was visible for 3-4 seconds, probably a bolide; if visible for 15-30 seconds, probably space junk.”

This bolide is more like what I saw, but not quite. Photo: Wikipedia

Based on my observation, and what I later saw online, I’m leaning toward a bolide, but thinking about it now, it is possible the smear began before I saw it, which would potentially mean space junk.

On that note, Scott added, “I don’t see any other reports of it either locally or on the International Meteor Organization’s (IMO) reporting form. There were no reports of big space junk expected at that time, but there are nuts and bolts and bits of stuff they can’t really track that burn up without a prediction.”

So, the mystery continues, but I did take Scott’s advice, fill out the IMO’s report form, and my observation is now recorded for posterity.

Most of the time during winter, I spend a lot of time looking down to make sure I don’t trip and fall, but after this sighting, I look up a lot more, especially when there are clear skies in the early mornings. Very exciting for a novice stargazer like me!