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NASA: Dead Satellite Fell In South Pacific

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In this file image provided by NASA this is the STS-48 onboard photo of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) in the grasp of the RMS (Remote Manipulator System) during deployment, from the shuttle in September 1991. NASA's old research satellite is expected to come crashing down through the atmosphere Friday afternoon, Sept. 23, 2011 Eastern Time. The spacecraft will not be passing over North America then, the space agency said in a statement Wednesday evening. (AP Photo/NASA) | AP

The fallen satellite mystery may have been solved.

There was some mild panic around the world that a piece of a falling dead satellite the size of a bus could hit a person last weekend, but the debris ended up "about as far away from large land masses as you can get" on Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

NASA says that the dead satellite's debris fell over the south Pacific Ocean -- estimates suggest about two dozen pieces scattered over 500 miles. Although the U.S. Air Force figured that the satellite entered Earth's atmosphere above American Samoa, AP reports that "pieces of it didn't start hitting the water for another 300 miles to the northeast, southwest of Christmas Island."

NASA states, "This was not an easy re-entry to predict because of the natural forces acting on the satellite as its orbit decayed":

Six years after the end of its productive scientific life, UARS broke into pieces during re-entry, and most of it up burned in the atmosphere. Twenty-six satellite components, weighing a total of about 1,200 pounds, could have survived the fiery re-entry and reach the surface of Earth.

Earlier predictions suggested that the satellite could hit land, with unconfirmed reports of debris in Canada.

According to NPR, Lottie Williams of Oklahoma is the only person on record to have been hit by space junk. A piece of what is believed to be the Delta II rocket hit her shoulder in 1997. Given that this satellite landed in the ocean, it seems Lottie's title remains intact.


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