Dead NASA Satellite Falls To Earth, RCMP Says Reports Of Debris In Alberta A Hoax (VIDEO)
CALGARY - Officials in the U.S. and Canada are trying to determine where debris from an American satellite have landed, but the RCMP is shooting down reports that some pieces fell in an Alberta community.
More than 15 hours after the spacecraft plunged over the north Pacific Ocean early Saturday, U.S. space officials didn't know just where it crashed.
No injuries or damage were reported, leading NASA to conclude there's a good likelihood most of the space junk dropped safely into the sea.
The spacecraft entered the atmosphere around 12:15 a.m. ET over the coast of Washington state, said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
He said while the ocean was the likeliest crash pad, some debris may have made it to Canada, such as Calgary or Saskatoon, Sask. Portland, Ore. and Seattle also might have been hit.
Those locations were possible because the last track for the satellite included Canada, starting north of Seattle and then making a large arc north and then south, said NASA spokesman Steve Cole.
NASA has received no credible reports of debris on the ground.
Phil Langill, director of the Rothney Astrophysics Observatory at the University of Calgary, said figuring out where the 26 pieces rained down is difficult because the re-entry track was unpredictable.
"Having no solid predictions means that it's just luck of the draw," he said. "And if it happened to be cloudy — worse of all if it happened to be daytime when this thing came down — most people would have missed it even if they knew where to look."
A YouTube video and comments on Twitter triggered speculation that debris may have hit Okotoks, a town south of Calgary. But the RCMP said it found no evidence support that.
RCMP Sgt. Patrick Webb said the video is likely a hoax, adding police have heard nothing about falling debris in the area.
"If that video is real, I will buy you a cup of coffee," Webb said in an interview.
On the video, the videographers talk throughout the footage and at one point, a person says — "I am Oklahoma City, looking southeast and... the debris pieces keep on coming."
The video was titled "Okotoks, Canada - UARS Fiery Footage" and the Oklahoma City reference was not immediately clear.
Speculation spiralled wildly on Twitter over where the pieces made landfall. Some users posted more obviously fake videos that at first sounded like they could be real in attempts to generate views.
"It's pretty goofy," Langill said with a chuckle. "What does that say about people and getting attention? It's more of a psychological and sociological experiment than a scientific experiment."
He said that if conditions were ideal, there could have been a spectacular light show similar to a meteor flashing through the sky, but the display would be brighter as the pieces burned up and stayed illuminated longer.
"It would have had a nice long tail and would have initially been one bright spot and then broken up into two or three bright spots," he said.
Were anyone to find any debris on the ground, most would be smaller than a baseball and look like melted metal blobs, Langill said. However, NASA said it expected the biggest surviving chunk could weigh as much as 136 kilograms.
High above the earth, the satellite weighed six tons.
McDowell said he'd be surprised if anyone was hurt by the debris because it appears to have fallen in such remote areas.
"I do think people saw lights in the sky and fireballs and may well be bits of UARS falling down," he said.
All the buzz surrounding the satellite's descent amused Langill, who said objects fall from the sky more frequently than the public realizes.
"The only thing that was really different about this one is that there may be a chance that some of the larger, denser pieces could make it down to the ground," he said. "I think that's what made the story more interesting for everyone."
He added that expressions of concern from some people the projectiles could do damage were unfounded.
"This one had no potential to explode, there were no volatiles on board, it was just going to be a nice pretty little light show," he said. "Other than that, there was nothing to worry about."
The bus-sized Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite was NASA's biggest spacecraft to tumble out of orbit, uncontrolled, in 32 years.
It was launched aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1991.
NASA decommissioned the satellite in 2005, after moving it into a lower orbit that cut its life short by two decades.
One of the videos under scrutiny: