PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colorado – What appeared to be a fiery stream of meteors tumbling from the sky early Thursday turned out to the remains of a Russian rocket that had launched a French space telescope last month, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said.
NORAD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly said the agency was unable to confirm a report that a piece of the rocket may have hit the ground near Riverton, Wyo., at about 6 a.m. MST.
No damage was reported, and any debris that may have hit the ground was not believed to be hazardous, NORAD said.
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Riverton police Capt. Mark Stone said he saw a "pretty spectacular" burning object while he was retrieving his newspaper.
"My first concern is that we had some sort of aircraft that was coming down. It was definitely leaving a burning debris trail behind it," he said.
He said he could tell it was fairly large object, but it was too high to make out exactly what it was.
Jim Siefken of Fort Collins said he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him when he first saw the streaking lights.
"But after another glance it amazed me, the brilliance and magnitude of this event," he told the Fort Collins Coloradoan in a story posted on its Web site.
Kelly said U.S. spacewatchers knew the spent SL4 rocket was coming down.
"Objects falling from space are almost an everyday occurrence," he said.
The French telescope satellite COROT was launched Dec. 27 from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It will monitor 120,000 stars, and researchers hope it will help them locate new planets during its nearly three-year mission.
Kelly said there was no known connection between the rocket and an object that fell into a house Tuesday in New Jersey.