Burning debris from satellites spotted over several US cities

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Tuesday, February 10, the American civilian communications satellite Iridium 33, launched in 1997, and the defunct Russian military communications satellite Kosmos-2251, launched in 1993, collided over Siberia. Five days after the collision, reports have surfaced that burning debris from the collision has been spotted over several U.S. cities from New Mexico to Kentucky.

Calls to 9-1-1 began to come in to Williamson County, Texas sheriff's office around 12:30 p.m. (CT) that burning debris and fireballs were seen falling from the sky onto parts of Austin, Houston, Waco and San Antonio. Residents reported their homes and windows shaking and large explosions. After a search of several areas, the Williamson county sheriff's office reported that no debris or impact sites were found. Earlier unconfirmed reports had said the debris could have been the result of a small plane exploding.

Iridium satellite.
Image: ideonexus.

Steve Thornton, a resident in Austin told KEYE-TV that he "saw something burn up in the atmosphere going east to west at 40 degrees in the horizon looking north" which was "about the size of a half moon and as bright as a welders torch". Other residents reported to KEYE-TV that they saw an "egg-shape with an orange center and bluish outer aura; a silvery-white tail." Some report the incident lasting about 10 minutes.

On February 13, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an alert following reports of "explosions and earthquakes" along with "flashes in the sky" in Jackson and Louisville, Kentucky. There were no injures and authorities could not locate any damage.

"The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported to local law enforcement on Friday that these events are being caused by falling satellite debris. These pieces of debris have been causing sonic booms, resulting in vibrations felt by some residents, as well as flashes of light across the sky," said the NOAA in a public information statement on February 13. The FAA also warns that the debris could cause damage to aircraft in areas reporting falling debris.

"Aircraft are advised that a potential hazard may occur due to reentry of satellite debris into the Earth's atmosphere. It is critical that all pilots/crew members report any observed falling space debris," said the FAA on February 13. Both the NOAA and FAA alerts are in place until further notice and cover an area from New Mexico to Kentucky.

However, Dr. Marco Ciocca, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University told WKYT in Kentucky it would "be months" before any of the satellite wreckage enters the Earth's atmosphere. "The debris doesn't simply fall out of its orbit. It will either vaporize or stay in orbit for some time before falling into Earth's atmosphere."

The satellites, both of which weighed in excess of 1,000 pounds, and traveling at approximately 17,500 miles per hour, collided 491 miles above the Earth. Scientists say the explosion caused by the collision was massive. They are still trying to determine just how large the crash was and how the Earth will be affected. The United States Strategic Command of the U.S. Department of Defense office is tracking the debris. The result of plotting analysis will be posted to a public website.


 
This story has updates
 
See US military says 'fireballs' spotted over Texas are not related to satellite collision
 

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