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See a massive space-junk fireball light up the night sky

A ball of flames sporting a long, sparkly tail zoomed across the dark sky, leaving witnesses to wonder if the alien invasion was about to begin.

There are more than 500,000 pieces of space junk in orbit around Earth, NASA estimates. Sometimes, that junk reenters the atmosphere, dragging a fire show along with it. That's what happened in the night sky over a good chunk of the western US on Wednesday. Photographer Ian Norman shared a video of his fireball view, along with some commentary (and a little profanity).

Eyewitnesses wondered if the bright streak was a plane, a meteor or a UFO. Turns out it was none of the above. According to the Los Angeles Times, the object was a Chinese CZ-7 rocket coming back down to Earth. The main bulk of the rocket likely melted from the heat of reentry, though it's possible some small pieces of debris made it to the ground.

While meteors and falling debris can send streaks across the sky, this particular fireball was impressive for its size, brightness and long tail. Norman describes it as "the most ridiculous fireball in the sky." He even heard a boom in the distance after it passed the horizon line. For more fun with fireballs, check out these NASA videos of an asteroid entering the atmosphere and a meteor burning up in spectacular fashion.