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Fri, Jan 05, 2007

Falling Object Over Colorado Confirmed As Space Junk

Chicken Little Says "See?"

Thursday was a busy day for skywatchers. Not only were experts working to determine the nature of a metallic chunk that fell through the sky, and into the bathroom of a New Jersey home... they were also attempting to figure out what caused a spectacular lightshow in the early morning skies over Wyoming.

Well, one of those mysteries has been solved: the bright flash that fell from space early Thursday over Wyoming wasn't a bird, a plane or a superhero. It was a Russian SL-4 rocket body reentering the earth's atmosphere, officials at North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command confirmed.

The spacecraft launch stage came back into Earth's atmosphere over Wyoming through Colorado earlier Thursday morning, Air Force Capt. Elena O'Brien, spokesperson for NORAD and NORTHCOM, told American Forces Press Service.

"This is really not an unusual event; it happens all the time," O'Brien said. "What's unusual is that it happened where people can see it. Because so much of the earth is water, most of it ends up in the ocean."

The 1st Space Control Squadron at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs, CO tracked the reentry from a December 27 launch, she said. The squadron tracks millions of items orbiting the earth every day.

NORTHCOM and NORAD are still gathering information about the number and exact size of the incoming debris, but O'Brien said it is relatively small because larger pieces usually break up during reentry.

All pieces of the rocket have now reentered the earth's atmosphere, and most of the debris is expected to have fallen in Southwestern Colorado and Northwestern New Mexico, officials said.

They emphasized that no damage has been reported, and the debris is not believed to be hazardous. However, they encourage anyone who believes they may know the location of a piece from this rocket to exercise caution and inform local authorities immediately for potential recovery operations.

The biggest concern, O'Brien said, is that the debris may still hot, because the tremendous friction caused during reentry causes it to heat to thousands of degrees centigrade.

The NORAD-USNORTHCOM Command Center informed the National Guard Bureau and Department of Homeland Security so they are prepared to respond, if necessary.

FMI: www.norad.mil, www.northcom.mil

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