domingo, 25 de septiembre de 2011

NASA says no credible reports of debris landing from Six-Ton U.S. satellite


Officials in the U.S. and Canada are trying to determine where debris from an American satellite has landed, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) says reports that some pieces fell in Alberta are not verified. NASA so far has received no credible reports of debris on the ground.

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, who added that while the ocean was the likeliest crash pad, some debris may have made it to Canada, such as Calgary or Saskatoon. 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.

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 — worst 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 to 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 was rampant on Twitter over where the pieces made landfall. Some users, in attempts to generate views, posted more obviously fake videos that at first sounded real.

"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 added 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.


The Daily Galaxy

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