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
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
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.