Re-entry of Cosmos 2335 observed

Alan Pickup (
Tue, 5 Jan 1999 18:25:21 +0000

Sorry for the length of this posting, folks, but I thought you'd be
interested...  :)

I have identified a brilliant fireball seen over Venezuela shortly before
local midnight on Dec 31 - Jan 1 with the re-entry of Cosmos 2335 (#24670 =
96- 69 A). The event occurred ~15 minutes after my SatEvo-computed decay
time for this object, and ~45 minutes before SpaceCom's time.

The first indication I received of the fireball was this posting yesterday
to the sci.astro.amateur newsgroup by Romulo Rodriguez (some headers and
included quotes snipped):

From: "Romulo Rodriguez" <>
Subject: New Year Fireball over Venezuela
Date: Mon, 4 Jan 1999 09:41:32 -0400

Just 13 minutes before 1999 (11:47 pm local time on Dec 31st 1998) a very
bright fireball (at least magnitude -12) crossed the central portion of
Venezuela. The meteor was easily seen by many people who where preparing
their fireworks to celebrate the new year. It was reported seen in Cagua
(100 km west of Caracas), then San Juan and finally in El Sombrero, a town
at least 100 km south of Cagua. It was composed of at least four major
pieces and many small ones all falling at the same time and leaving a very
visible smoke trail.

I am interested in knowing if it hit the ground. I have been collecting
observational data in the last few days and have a gross idea of the impact
site. If you know of someone with valuable data to share please let me know.

Romulo Rodriguez
Cagua Venezuela

to which I replied in the newsgroup ...

From: Alan Pickup <>
Subject: Re: New Year Fireball over Venezuela
Date: Mon, 4 Jan 1999 21:20:57 +0000

Although this does not include the duration of visibility, the
description sounds rather similar to that of a satellite re-entry. If
so, it may have been the re-entry of the large Cosmos 2335 satellite.

USSPACECOM claim that this object re-entered at 04:33 UTC on January 1,
which translates to 00:33 local time in Venezuela. They give its
location at that time as 4.7 deg N latitude, 106.9 deg E longitude which
places it over the South China Sea. However, they also say that the time
could be wrong by 37 minutes either way.

My own analysis of the re-entry of Cosmos 2335, posted in the SeeSat-L
(Satellite Observers) mailing list later that day, suggested that the
re-entry could have occurred rather earlier, perhaps at about 03:30 UTC
(ie 23:30 Venezuela time). I said that I thought it unlikely that Cosmos
2335 could have survived as long as USSPACECOM were claiming.

In fact, just a few minutes after 03:30 UTC, the orbit of Cosmos 2335
would have carried it over Venezuela on an approximately NNW -> SSE
track about 100 km to the west of Caracas. I calculate the following UTC
times (probably good to within 5 seconds) and positions:

            UTC      Latitude  Longitude
          h  m  s     deg N     deg W
          3 42  0      18.2      71.6
          3 42 30      16.3      70.7
          3 43  0      14.4      69.9
          3 43 30      12.5      69.1
          3 44  0      10.7      68.3
          3 44 30       8.8      67.6
          3 45  0       6.9      66.8
          3 45 30       5.0      66.0
          3 46  0       3.1      65.3
          3 46 30       1.2      64.5

The time looks a little early, but the track seems to pass close to the
reported observing sites. I'd be interested to hear more of the eye-
witness reports (duration and direction of observation, altitude of
fireball, direction of motion, etc).


Romulo posted this follow-up to the newsgroup today...

From: "Romulo Rodriguez" <>
Subject: Re: New Year Fireball over Venezuela
Date: Tue, 5 Jan 1999 09:56:03 -0400

Thanks for your reply.
Yes, your calculated trajectory seems to be ok. I am currently in the
process of estimating the altitude when it crossed my sky (I was close to
10deg10min North, 67deg 28min West). It crossed the entire sky from Az
approx 330 to Az 160, exactly as you predicted NW to SE. It lasted some two
or three minutes, remember we where celebrating and the wrist watch I use
for parties do not show the seconds. I have a report from a place called
Guigue south of the Valencia lake where they saw the fireball to their east,
I saw it in Cagua to my west approximately 45 deg at the maximum altitude,
so since this place is about 50 km west from where I am I think the altitude
should be lower than that but never below 20km.
I had the opportunity today of watching a video taking with a handycam. The
video has at least four or five excellent seconds of the thing coming down
with debris and at least four or five little pieces in the core. The color
was rather white but with green and red sparks as well.

Romulo Rodriguez

In another email just received, Romulo confirms (after speaking with other
witnesses) that a more realistic estimate of the duration of the fireball
was around one minute, rather than the two to three minutes quoted above.

Quite independently, I have also received a report (via Rob McNaught in
Australia) of what is obviously the same fireball as seen from the island of
Aruba, which is located only a short distance "off-shore" from NW Venezuela,
and a little west of the predicted track. The report was circulated on the
International Meteor Observers news mailing list and reads...

Date: Sun, 03 Jan 1999 20:50:33 -0400
From: Erwin van Ballegoij & Heidi van der Vloet <>
Subject: Strange 'fireball'

Dear reader of IMO-news

On December 31 I was sitting with my wife and some friends in the
garden, enjoying the fireworks on Aruba, when my wife noticed something
strange. She saw a bright object moving horizontally. At first she
thought this was some kind of firework. But because it stayed so much
longer visible than ordinary fireworks, she drew my attention to it.
It clearly was no firework. That wouldn't keep on moving horizontally so
slowly without coming down and it wouldn't stay visible for such a long
What did I see? At 23h44 local time a fireball with a head of magnitude
-6 followed by a difuse luminous trail of magnitude -3 appeared. Both
head and trail had an orange colour (like sodiumlights). The trail had a
lenght of about 5 to 10 degrees and a width (at the end) of 10
arcminutes. It moved extremely slowly. To slow for a meteor and to fast
for a satellite or airplane. It came from NE (or NNE) and moved through
the E to the SE (or SSE). The object never came higher than 30 degrees
and moved roughly horizontally. In the ESE the object showed a weak
flare of magnitude -7 and then continued with the same brightness as
before. When it came close to the horizon it became fainter. The
fireball was visible for about 1 minute.
What was this object? It couldn't be a meteor. Perhaps it was a
satellite returning from orbit. But the direction of movement was a bit
strange for a satellite. It should then be a polar satellite. There are
not many such satellites. Does anybody know if a polar satellite
returned in the atmosphere at Januari 1 3h44 UT. If so, please let me
know! If you can offer me another explanation, please feel free to mail
it to me.


Erwin van Ballegoij

* Erwin van Ballegoij en Heidi van der Vloet *
* Tarabanaweg 9                              *
* Oranjestad, Aruba                          *
* tel: ++ 297 821918                         *
* e-mail:               *

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