Everybody all right? Nobody walking around with a bus-sized satellite lodged in their head?
Good. NASA has confirmed that the defunct UARS satellite is no longer orbiting earth after spending 20 years up there monitoring the ever-interesting chemicals of the atmosphere. The satellite fell in an uncontrolled tumble sometime between 11:23 p.m. Friday and 1:09 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24. The good news is that this clunker didn't squish a house or punch a hole through a skyscraper. The bad is that we may never know where the pieces of UARS landed.
The precise re-entry time and location of debris impacts have not been determined. During the re-entry period, the satellite passed from the east coast of Africa over the Indian Ocean, then the Pacific Ocean, then across northern Canada, then across the northern Atlantic Ocean, to a point over West Africa. The vast majority of the orbital transit was over water, with some flight over northern Canada and West Africa.... Data indicates the satellite likely broke apart and landed in the Pacific Ocean far off the U.S. coast. [Emphasis mine.]
Up to 26 satellite components could have survived reentry and might now be providing endless amusement to the sea slugs and spider crabs of the world's largest ocean. If only there was some way to drain it for a while and conduct a search... although the fish might not like that idea. Maybe explorer Bill Warren can devote a few hours looking for it during his underwater hunt to find Osama bin Laden's body. (Why? Because "we are patriotic Americans and feel that President Obama failed to provide the proof.")
Because of the lack of evidence of where the UARS' catastrophic upper-atmosphere breakup occurred, it is easier than normal to dismiss the legions of fake YouTube videos that pop up after any big media story. Like this one, UARS SATELLITE FLYING OVER OUR HOUSE!, which is actually telescope footage of UARS recorded earlier by French astro-photographer Thierry Legault. Or this one, titled "First video of Satellite UARS debris falling over Okotoks, Canada":
The below fake does the honor of showing a god's-honest spacecraft burning up as it reenters the atmosphere. Too bad it's not UARS, but rather an automated-transfer vehicle named Jules Verne fell in 2008 after completing a mission to the International Space Station. You can read more about NASA and the European Space Agency's mission to film the reentry in this neat video.