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    Airliner and re-entering space debris
    From: Frank Reed CT
    Date: 2007 Mar 28, 20:35 -0700

    Not much navigation in this, but what the hell.
    >From various news media, all happily quoting each other:
    "Space debris from a re-entering Russian satellite passed fairly close
    to an airliner [over the South Pacific]. "
    Since I know people from this list follow such stories, I just want to
    be the first to say "baloney" on this one.
    I'll bet you money that this is just some goofy pilot who saw a bright
    fireball (more likely than not, a fireball due to a natural meteor)
    and made the assumption that it must be "really close", just five
    miles away, because it "looks like" it's five miles away. But [as we
    on this list all know] there is no easy way to estimate a distance
    like that with an object of unknown size. The pilot probably read a
    notice about an upcoming Progress re-entry and when he saw something
    in the sky, he put two and two together and got 3.14159. As for the
    claim that he heard the sound of it, this is a frequent component of
    amateur reports of fireballs, and with rare exceptions, it's all in
    the observer's head. Finally, the "flaming" portion of a re-entry
    (more correctly the "plasma trail" portion) occurs at very high
    altitude and way down range (dozens to hundreds or miles typically)
    from the eventual landing point of any debris (an exception would be a
    very large, complex object like Mir or the ill-fated Columbia which
    breaks up into thousands of substantial piece during re-entry --in
    that case, the plasma trail from the most massive objects may extend
    as far down-range as the initial impact points of the smaller pieces).
    Better evidence could convince me otherwise, of course, but this story
    has such a "ufo tales" quality about it that I really would bet
    against it. Whenever someone says, "it looked like it was just on the
    other side of that hill", odds are very good that they have no idea
    what they're talking about.
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