A large chunk of launching debris from a Soviet satellite set off a startling red, green and blue midnight display over the Northeastern United States as it plunged back to Earth, authorities said Friday.
"It was a big piece of debris, a part of the launch debris, from Cosmos 1530. The payload is still up in orbit," said Kay Cormier, public affairs officer for the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs.
The bright lights that appeared just before midnight Thursday kept phones ringing at radio stations, newspapers and airports from Michigan to Virginia, as well as at NORAD and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Pieces of space debris fall almost daily but "most of them decay over oceans and nobody sees it," Cormier said. But he said that "in this case, the piece of debris was 4.67 meters in diameter and, with the speed of 17,000 m.p.h. and tremendous heat, one piece did survive. It broke up . . . and that was what was seen."