Northlanders have discovered how spectacular burning space junk can look.

Carey Shaw immediately reached for her phone when a friend pointed out a bright light in the sky behind her.

The Whangārei woman was one of many Northlanders who snapped a shot of the bright orb blazing its way across the sky shortly before 9pm on Saturday night.

"It was really bright, I've never seen anything that bright. The sparks coming off the back of it were amazing."

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She was at a party on Mt Tiger and had a great view of the rare sight which had people throughout Northland speculating about satellites and meteors.

Shaw said it was in the sky for "quite a long time", at least a minute.

Mt Tiger proved to be a great spot to see the bright light go past. Photo/Carey Shaw
Mt Tiger proved to be a great spot to see the bright light go past. Photo/Carey Shaw

Meanwhile Di Errington-Crawford was at a friend's place at Marsden Cove when she saw a "massively bring light streaming across the sky".

"It had a massive stream out the back of it."

She wondered what it was and said it was moving "way faster than a plane".

"There was no noise, that was what was so surreal."

She thinks she watched the bright light for close to two minutes.

"It was just really, really unusual."

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The burning bright, white light was witnessed all over Northland, and as far south as Nelson.

Northland Astronomical Society president Peter Felhofer had not witnessed it but had seen plenty of photos and videos of what was "definitely some re-entering space junk".

Felhofer said he believed it was a Russian Satellite, known as Kosmos 2340, which had been launched in 2007.

He said a number of things pointed to it being a satellite.

"It broke up into several pieces high in the atmosphere and you normally get that with satellites or larger objects."

Felhofer said the fact no one reported any sound, and the "slow" speed that it moved also indicated it was a satellite.

He said to see it so pronounced is "pretty rare", but satellites re-enter the Earth's atmosphere "all the time".

Controlled returns to Earth are usually done over the ocean so people don't see them, but "this one sounds like it was a bit out of control'', he said.

His theory is shared by theoretical cosmologist Professor Richard Easther, head of physics at the University of Auckland, who also believes it was the Russian satellite.

Easther said it was conceivable some of the satellite, which had weighed nearly two tonnes, had survived the intense heat of its dive through the atmosphere and landed in someone's backyard.

Perhaps it was out of control for the Russians but it was a highlight for many Northlanders - especially coming just a few days after a cluster of offshore earthquakes also had people on Whangārei's coast jumping with excitement.