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US: FEMA Prepared for Dead NASA Satellite's Plunge to Earth This Week?

With a massive dead NASA satellite due to plunge back to Earth this week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is laying the groundwork for a fast response in case the 6 1/2-ton spacecraft falls over American soil. The defunct spacecraft, called the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), is projected to make and uncontrolled, fiery fall on Sept. 23, plus or minus a day, according to NASA.

Odds are that nobody will be beaned by any remaining chunks of the nearly $750 million spacecraft, with NASA experts forecasting a remote 1-in-3,200 chance of a possible injury from the satellite's debris. But re-entry specialists do expect about 26 different components from UARS to survive the plunge - a total leftover mass of 1,170 pounds (532 kilograms) - components made of titanium, aluminum, steel and beryllium.


It is impossible to pinpoint just where UARS satellite debris will fall. With Earth being three-fourths oceans, the odds of a harmless splashdown are good. But NASA estimates the debris footprint will be about 500 miles (804 kilometers) long. The word from NASA is direct: "If you find something you think may be a piece of UARS, do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance." [Photos: Space Debris & Cleanup Concepts]

That's where FEMA comes in.

Sun

The Secret Lives of Solar Flares

© R. Astronomical Society
Sunspots sketched by R. Carrington on Sept. 1, 1859.

One hundred and fifty two years ago, a man in England named Richard Carrington discovered solar flares.

It happened at 11:18 AM on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1st, 1859. Just as usual on every sunny day, the 33-year-old solar astronomer was busy in his private observatory, projecting an image of the sun onto a screen and sketching what he saw. On that particular morning, he traced the outlines of an enormous group of sunspots. Suddenly, before his eyes, two brilliant beads of white light appeared over the sunspots; they were so bright he could barely stand to look at the screen.

Carrington cried out, but by the time a witness arrived minutes later, the first solar flare anyone had ever seen was fading away.

It would not be the last. Since then, astronomers have recorded thousands of strong flares using instruments ranging from the simplest telescopes in backyard observatories to the most complex spectrometers on advanced spacecraft. Possibly no other phenomenon in astronomy has been studied as much.

After all that scrutiny, you might suppose that everything about solar flares would be known. Far from it. Researchers recently announced that solar flares have been keeping a secret.

"We've just learned that some flares are many times stronger than previously thought," says University of Colorado physicist Tom Woods who led the research team. "Solar flares were already the biggest explosions in the solar system - and this discovery makes them even bigger."

Meteor

NASA: Re-entry Alert September 23 for Research Satellite

Image
© NASA
NASA reports that UARS, an atmospheric research satellite the size of a small bus, will re-enter Earth's atmosphere on Sept. 23, plus or minus one day. Not all of the spectacularly-disintegrating spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere; debris could be scattered along a ground track some 500 miles long. Because of the rapid evolution of UARS's decaying orbit, the location of the debris zone is not yet known.

A NASA risk assessment places the odds of a human casualty at 1:3200. For last-chance sightings of UARS, check the Simple Satellite Tracker or download the Satellite Flybys app for your smartphone.

Meteor

Fireball sparks panic as it shoots across 250 miles of night sky above California

When a streak of fire blazed through the air above southern California, people could have been forgiven for thinking the Earth was under attack.

Thousands saw it from Phoenix in Arizona to Las Vegas and Los Angeles and local authorities were swamped with reports of ball of flame in the night sky.

One witness said: 'It was huge. It had a green glow in front of it and a white tail. It looked like green fireworks going across the sky.'

Blazing through the sky: A witness captures the fireball on camera


Question

US: Mysterious light seen in Southwestern sky

© CNN

What exactly was seen in the skies across the Southwestern U.S. Wednesday night? Was it a meteor, a falling satellite or, perhaps, something more mysterious?

A streak of light that some are describing as a fireball, was seen shooting across the night sky and law enforcement and media from Phoenix to Los Angeles to Las Vegas were fielding calls of the reported sighting.

Lt. Justin Griffin of the Maricopa Sheriff Department in Arizona was trying to guess what the strange light was.

Meteor

US: 2 different objects seen over Phoenix, says witness


Many residents around Arizona have reported seeing a "glowing object" fly across the night sky Wednesday.

Some experts believe it was either a fireball or a bright meteor. We started getting reports of the object around 7:45 p.m.

Meteor

US: Possible Meteor Streaks Across Nevada, Arizona, and Southern California on Wednesday Evening

© ABC15.com

A bright light across the sky was seen from Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Southern California on Wednesday evening.

Sources believe it was a meteor that came through the atmosphere, however it has not yet been confirmed.

Just after 7:45 p.m. TheWeatherSpace.com tip line was loaded with message of the sighting. Some describe it as a sight they've never seen before.

"I was sitting outside looking at the thunderstorms in the distance and the object caught my eye," said Janet Patton of Palm Springs, California. "It was easily brighter than the full moon and it cast shadows.

Whatever it was, it caused a stir.

© ABC15.com

Meteor

Fireball sighted in skies over southwestern US

Image
© FXhome.com
Green fireball illustration
Reports stream in from Southern California and Nevada; experts say it's a meteor

People from San Diego to Los Angeles to Las Vegas reported seeing a large, greenish, fiery object shooting across the sky Wednesday night.

"I saw something that looked like a falling star but it must have been a fireball in the atmosphere," one witness told NBCLA. "It was huge. It had a green glow in front of it and a white tail. It like green fireworks going across the sky."

Witnesses said they saw the fireball around 7:45 p.m. PT (10:45 p.m. ET).

The Federal Aviation Administration said they received many calls about the sky sightings. Initially, there were concerns that the fireball could have been an aircraft. But a spokesman from the National Weather Service told NBCLA that it sounded as if it was a meteor.

Experts said that a meteor is slower than a regular shooting star, and it's not unusual for it to appear to change colors.

In a Twitter update, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said that "a lot of lucky people ... saw a fireball tonight" - and pointed to a webpage listing frequently asked questions about fireballs. The report said sightings were made in Arizona as well as California and Nevada.

Meteor

US: Palm Springs Residents Spot Apparent Meteor in Sky

Some Coachella Valley residents spotted something that looked to be falling from the sky tonight, amid reports of a meteor in the Southwest.

It looked like a falling star that continued falling toward the mountain, a Desert Sun reporter in south Palm Springs said.

The Scottsdale Airport tower told police they saw meteor activity around 7:45 p.m., the Arizona Republic reported.

Twitter users from Las Vegas to San Diego have also reported spotting the unusual activity in the sky.

"Okay did anybody else see the giant #meteor or #UFO that fell out of the sky 15 minutes ago?" @ FRUTRON Tweeted.

The National Weather Service said it had not heard of any meteor activity, the Gannett-owned Phoenix paper added.

Palm Springs police said they have not received any calls about the object.

Meteor

Comet Elenin is Now Fading Away

© Michael Mattiazzo
Comet Elenin on Sept. 14, 2011. It is is now almost indiscernible. Image and annotated chart by Michael Mattiazzo.

As far as Comet Elenin goes, the only chance of impending doom is for the comet itself: it is disintegrating and quickly fading away. Australian amateur astronomer Michael Mattiazzo has been monitoring this comet's trip toward perihelion (closest point in its orbit to the Sun), which occurred on September 10, 2011, and he says Comet Elenin has likely has not survived. The image above was taken by Mattiazzo on today (Sept. 14) and it is barely visible as a disintegrating smudge.

Comet Elenin - the comet that has created a hoopla of completely nonsensical, non-scientific doomsday predictions - faded dramatically after being hit by a solar flare on August 20, as we reported earlier. Subsequent images revealed a spreading, diffuse coma. It will likely continue to fade and become more diffuse.

Elenin's mass is smaller than average and its trajectory will take it no closer than 34 million km (21 million miles) of Earth as it circles the Sun. It will make its closest approach to Earth on October 16th, but was closest to the Sun on Sept. 10.