Alta. hoax catches fire; satellite in Pacific


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OKOTOKS, Alta. -- In a scene reminiscent of Orson Welles' famous War of the Worlds broadcast, an Internet hoax early Saturday had a NASA satellite the size of a bus crashing to Earth on a farm near Okotoks.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/09/2011 (4195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OKOTOKS, Alta. — In a scene reminiscent of Orson Welles’ famous War of the Worlds broadcast, an Internet hoax early Saturday had a NASA satellite the size of a bus crashing to Earth on a farm near Okotoks.

One Twitter report, originating from someone calling himself “Reporter Carl Phillips,” even described “debris found at the Wilmuch Farm,” and detailed tattered vegetation where a piece of orbiting space junk allegedly crashed.

Alas, it was all a complete fabrication.

NASA’s faltering Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite in fact fell out of orbit into the Pacific Ocean off the U.S. West Coast sometime between 11:23 p.m. ET Friday and 1:09 a.m. the next day, the space agency reported Saturday.

In a teleconference on Saturday, NASA scientist Nicholas Johnson said it likely dropped out of the sky and into “the Pacific, a good deal away from the western coast of the United States.”

But that didn’t stop the rumours that it had come down near Okotoks, just southwest of Calgary, from spreading like a Prairie wildfire.

“Reporter Carl Phillips on the scene near Okotoks, AB,” tweeted one imnotgonnalie2u. “Debris found at the Wilmuth Farm.” Phillips, an apparent local reporter, seemed to be accompanied by one Professor Pierson.

“The ground is covered with splinters of a tree it must have struck on its way down,” wrote the seemingly faithful scribe, even going so far as to include a radio transcript of the scene.

Astute followers would have hearkened back to Welles’ radio transmissions of the work of author H.G. Wells. His War of the Worlds, broadcast in 1938, panicked listeners who thought reports of the coming extraterrestrial invasions had journalistic, rather than fictional merit.

But still, accounts of the Okotoks satellite crash orbited the globe faster than the spacecraft itself.

RCMP Sgt. Patrick Webb said he fielded calls from reporters in Japan, England and across the U.S.

“As far as we can tell, this is one big hoax,” he said.

Likewise, the space agency said it had received no credible reports of either sightings or debris.

A YouTube video claiming to show lights moving in a darkened sky above the town was also quickly debunked.

“Somebody got it going really well and all they had to do was put the video out and many people around the world bit on it.”

As most of the Earth’s surface is ocean, the watery depths would prove to be the satellite’s most likely final destination. It’s possible the spacecraft hit the Earth sight unseen.

“There were several folks along the western coast of North America and the U.S. northwest and the Canadian southwest that were actually looking to observe UARS as it came over and every one of those attempts came up negative,” Johnson, of NASA, said.

“That would suggest that re-entry did occur before it reached the North American coast and most of the debris fell into the Pacific.”

UARS, launched in 1991, yielded during its working life some of the first long-term records of chemicals in the atmosphere. It was one of the largest space objects to drop through the atmosphere uncontrolled.

— Postmedia News

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