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Debris From Satellite Crash Possibly Fell Over Kentucky, Texas

Satellite Crash: Who's to Blame?
An artist's depiction of an Iridium satellite.
(Image: © Iridium Satellite LLC.)

This story was updated at 5:46 p.m. EST.

The fallingremains of two satellites obliterated in a devastating space collision last weekmay be behind weekend reports of fireballs spotted over parts of Texas andKentucky, local media and weather officials said Sunday.

Earliertoday, residents across parts of central Texas reported numerous sightings of abright fireball streaking across the daytime sky, according to several accountsby local television stations and newspapers. The Federal Aviation Authorities(FAA) issued an advisory to aircraft pilots on Saturday alerting them of potentialhazards from re-entering debris from the in-space collisionof two satellites last Tuesday.

Texas?s KBTXNews 10 station reported numerous sightings from residents who spotted the fireballsor heard rumbling sounds earlier on Sunday. The Waco Tribune-Heraldnewspaper cited reports from residents who described hearing an explosion-like soundthat rattled windows and shook houses. In both reports, FAA officialsattributed the sightings as stemming from re-entering debris from the satellitecollision, though none of the debris appeared to fall all the way to theground.

Last week, thedefunct Russian military satellite Cosmos 2251 slammed into the active U.S.communications satellite Iridium 33 as they flew about 490 miles (790 km) aboveSiberia. The collision destroyed bothsatellites, creating two large clouds of debris made up of hundreds ofindividual pieces, some of which may remain inorbit for up to 10,000 years, Russian mission experts have said.

Officialsat the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the U.S. Defense Department?sSpace Surveillance Network that continuously tracks the more than 18,000 separatepieces of space debris in orbit today, said they did receive a report of the Texassightings on Sunday.

U.S. AirForce Lt. Col. Terry Plumb, a spokesperson for the U.S. Strategic Command, toldSPACE.com that the center received a 911 call from just outside Houston, Texas, butwas awaiting confirmation that it was actually caused by debris from theIridium 33-Cosmos 2251 satellite crash.

?We haven?treceived any official reports here yet,? Plumb said.

Late Friday,similar sky sightings were also received by National Weather Service (NWS) centersin parts of Kentucky. Like Sunday?s reports, the descriptions of explosions inthe sky and earthquake-like rumbles were attributed to the likely re-entry of debrisfrom the satellite collision, NWS officials in Jackson, Kentucky said in astatement.

?TheFederal Aviation Administration has reported to local law enforcement that theseevents are being caused by falling satellite debris,? the announcement stated. ?Thesepieces of debris have been causing sonic booms ? resulting in the vibrationsbeing felt by some residents ? as well as flashes of light across the sky.?

A phonecall to the FAA?s Southern Region branch, which includes Kentucky and othersouthern and eastern states, was not immediately returned Sunday.

Brian Schoettmer,a meteorologist with the Jackson NWS office, told SPACE.com thatresidents across several counties in eastern central Kentucky called theirlocal NWS branches to report the odd sky sightings.

?This was apretty rare call,? Schoettmer said, adding that the FAA told his office thatthe reports may have been caused by falling debris from the satellite crash. ?Reallyrare, actually.?

NASAscientists are trackingthe debris from last week?s satellite crash to determine the risk it poses tothe many science and communications satellites in Earth orbit, including theHubble Space Telescope. The debris also slightly raised the chances of debris damagingthe International Space Station, which orbits the Earth at an altitude ofabout 220 miles (354 km) - much lower than the satellite crash site - but the increasein risk is relatively minor, NASA officials have said.

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