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Emily LakdawallaSeptember 27, 2011

Finally, an official statement on UARS' exact reentry time and location

The world watched on Friday as the derelict spacecraft named UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) made its final few orbits around Earth. And then we waited for final word of its reentry location. And waited. And waited. I wound up going to bed without knowing what had finally happened to UARS, and I'm glad I didn't stay up, because NASA gave no specific word of its reentry time or location for days. Finally, today, they issued the following statement, giving specific information on the time and location of UARS' demise:

NASA's decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth at 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT) on Saturday, Sept. 24. The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has determined the satellite entered the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean at 14.1 degrees south latitude and 189.8 degrees east longitude. This location is over a broad, remote ocean area in the Southern Hemisphere, far from any major land mass. The debris field is located between 300 miles and 800 miles downrange, or generally northeast of the re-entry point. NASA is not aware of any possible debris sightings from this geographic area.

This is your source for official information on the re-entry of UARS. All information posted here has been verified with a government or law enforcement agency. This is NASA's final status report on the re-entry of UARS....

The Operations Center for JFCC-Space, the Joint Functional Component Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., which works around the clock detecting, identifying and tracking all man-made objects in Earth orbit, tracked the movements of UARS through the satellite's final orbits and provided confirmation of re-entry.

UARS reentry map

NASA

UARS reentry map
NASA's decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth at 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT) on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011. The satellite entered the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean at 14.1 degrees south latitude and 189.8 degrees east longitude. This location is over a broad, remote ocean area in the Southern Hemisphere, far from any major land mass. The debris field is located between 300 miles and 800 miles downrange, or generally northeast of the re-entry point. NASA is not aware of any possible debris sightings from this geographic area.

The long delay between the reentry of UARS and this official word provided ample opportunity for imaginative people of all kinds to produce lots of misinformation about what happened to the spacecraft. Conspiracy theorists wrote about coverups; attention-seeking opportunists created hoax fireballs and impact craters; and wishfully thinking skygazers reported sightings that could not have been the dying spacecraft (in many cases, people unused to looking upward thought brilliant Jupiter, which is nearly at opposition, was the reentering spacecraft). And there doesn't seem to be any information available on why it took so long for official word to come out -- which will only further inflame the imaginations of conspiracy theorists. It's unfortunate.

Lost in all of this is any discussion of the reason that UARS was up there in the first place. If you would like to seek the answer to that, here is a link to a list of 160 publications (peer-reviewed and not) containing UARS in their titles, and here is a link to the UARS website. It hasn't been updated since UARS was deactivated, but contains information on all the science instruments and the data that they produced.

UARS orbit history

NASA

UARS orbit history

Read more: Earth observing missions, mission status

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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