RE: Reentry of 14052B / 40142

From: Ted Molczan via Seesat-l <>
Date: Sun, 4 Jan 2015 21:04:11 -0500
Carlos Bella wrote:

> All this work it´s simply amazing ! It´s a piece of art !  Really thank you.

Thank you, Carlos. It is fun investigating these events. Each one is an opportunity to learn.

I have been checking for new articles each day, and making copies of the most informative ones.

My web searches last night yielded a nice bonus. I came across an archive of old Brazilian newspapers:

One of my ongoing projects is to make a comprehensive record of all natural re-entries that have been seen visually. Over the past couple of years, I have documented nearly 250 cases from around the world, one quarter of which had not been identified as re-entries at the time.

Unsolved UFO sightings have yielded nearly all of the new identifications, so I decided to search the above archive for OVNI, and immediately found an article about sightings on 1978 Mar 12, near 04:20 UTC, seen on a line roughly from Brasilia to São Paulo. The descriptions were very typical of the re-entry phenomenon: "set of luminous spheres, with a light beam, like a rocket", "a bright object with a tail", "a plane on fire or even a rocket". A witness in one article thought it was a flying saucer. Another article mentioned the possibility of space debris.

A quick check of USSTRATCOM's re-entry database revealed several suspects, of which 1978-009B / 10606 was a match. Analysis with Satana/Satevo estimated the re-entry within about 20 minutes of the sightings. Propagating the final TLE to the time of the sightings and forcing it to the altitude at which most re-entering objects breakup, yielded this estimate:

                                                           61 X 75 km
1 10606U 78009B   78 71.17986111  .00000000  00000-0  00000-0 0    07
2 10606  62.7555 358.4188 0010699 119.9022  84.0301 16.77000000    08

This low-altitude trajectory was visible from all reported sighting locations, within a couple minutes of the reported time. Here is a plot from Google Earth:

Here are scans of three articles found so far, including rough translations of two:

The latest draft of the re-entry sightings table is here:

It is interesting to reflect on the difference in the time it took to solve the 1978 case and the one last week.

The 1978 re-entry was quickly forgotten and went unsolved for nearly 37 years. News of last week's re-entry reached SeeSat-L within eight hours (thank you Carlos!). It was more difficult than usual, due the low perigee height and lack of recent elements, yet a credible hypothesis emerged from within the amateur community within 16 hours of re-entry.

Re-entry and bolide sightings are local or regional events, which do not normally receive global coverage. In 1978, only exceptionally interesting cases were likely to become known much beyond the area where they occurred. Language was a huge barrier. Observation reports normally consisted of personal accounts from memory, of limited scientific value. Orbital data was available, but only on paper printouts, delivered days or weeks old. The required software and computers were only available to a few experts. Collaboration across large distances was slow and difficult. (Personal long distance phone calls still tended to be reserved only for serious purposes, like announcing births and deaths in the family.) Many re-entry cases went unsolved and were quickly forgotten, today all but lost to history.

Now we have instant worldwide access to newspapers and social media. Machine translation helps break down language barriers. Orbital data and analytical software are readily available. High quality pocket-sized video cameras and special meteor cameras produce reliable records of what occurred, making us less reliant on fallible human perception and memory. When something interesting happens, more people are likely to hear about it, and sooner. More people are likely to be able to do something meaningful with the information.

It is not only technology that has changed. Spaceflight is now less of a novelty, and more a part of human culture. We are more likely to know what a re-entry looks like, having seen videos of them. It is becoming common knowledge.

An additional benefit of our present technology and knowledge is that records of some of those long-forgotten unsolved/unsuspected re-entries can now be found in various electronic archives, and finally identified and catalogued.

Ted Molczan

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Received on Sun Jan 04 2015 - 20:04:48 UTC

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