HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - They weren't afraid of being hit by space debris. Instead, some local sky watchers were hoping a dying satellite would come close enough to Hawaii to catch a glimpse of its fiery return to earth.
The Upper Air Research Satellite, or UARS, was launched in 1991. NASA said the satellite fell back to earth sometime between 5:23 p.m. and 7:09 p.m., Hawaii time. The re-entry was something that attracted the attention of local astronomers.
Barry Peckham of the Hawaiian Astronomical Society often scans the night sky with a telescope, checking out the stars and constellations. But Friday night, he was also checking out the sky, in case the six-ton defunct satellite started entering the atmosphere near Hawaii, even though the odds of that were very small.
"It might have been a thousand to one," Peckham said. "they said that in a one-hour window, it would go two-thirds of the way around the world. That's a lot of territory, and we're a small part of that."
"The folks in the astronomy club here, they were looking up, and we were all hoping to see something. Everybody wanted to see something," said Peckham.
Unfortunately, although the evening sky was clear above Honolulu and would have allowed for a great view, we didn't see anything here.
"So, it would've been pretty," Peckham said, "and as far as we know, nobody saw it except for maybe in Southern California."
Video from a news helicopter over San Diego showed something that NASA later confirmed was some kind of space debris. NASA also said that UARS was over the Los Angeles area at the time the video was recorded Friday evening.
If it had actually been re-entering at the time and burning up in the earth's atmosphere, Peckham says it would have been very bright.
"And colors, too," he added. "All those different chemical makeups or the components, copper wiring. Yellow and orange and green for sure, maybe some blues."
According to NASA, there are some 22,000 man-made objects orbiting the earth, everything from the International Space Station, to many other satellites, to small bits of man-made debris. So there's a chance we could still see something else, falling from the sky, in the future.
"It's going to be a continual rain of man-made meteors, and we'll be seeing them for years and years," Peckham said.
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RELATED LINK: NASA UARS Web page