The debris has landed, says Nasa. Just don't ask us where
Sunday 25 September 2011
A six-ton satellite belonging to Nasa plunged to Earth early yesterday, yet more than eight hours later US space officials still didn't know where it had come down. Most of it fell over water and they believe the debris probably hurt no one.
The bus-sized satellite first penetrated Earth's atmosphere somewhere over the Pacific, but that doesn't necessarily mean it all fell into the sea. Nasa's earlier calculations had predicted that the 20-year-old climate research satellite would burn up in the atmosphere with the surviving debris falling over a 500 square mile area that could include land.
The fact that its descent began over the ocean and that there have been no reports of people being hit "gives us a good feeling that no one was hurt," Stephen Cole, a Nasa spokesman, said. But officials didn't know for certain.
Government agencies said the 35ft satellite fell sometime between 3.23am and 5.09am British time, but with no precise time or location.
Speculation on the internet and Twitter focused on unconfirmed sightings and even video of debris over Alberta, Canada. Mr Cole said that this was possible because the last estimated path for the satellite would have taken it over Canada, starting north of Seattle and then travelling in a large arc north then south. From there, its path continued through the Atlantic and south towards Africa, but it was unlikely the satellite got that far if it started falling over the Pacific.
Mr Cole said that Nasa was hoping for more details from the US Air Force, which was responsible for tracking debris. However, given where the satellite is likely to have fallen, officials may never know precisely.
Some 26 pieces of the satellite, representing 1,200lb of heavy metal, had been expected to rain down somewhere. The biggest surviving chunk should be no more than 300lb.
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