Look Out!

NASA Satellite and Other Wild Stuff That’s Fallen From the Sky

NASA warned that a 6.5-ton satellite might fall out of the sky. Here are dangerous, beautiful, and gross things that have fallen.

by Caitlin Dickson

This Tuesday, around 6:30 pm, a quarter-mile wide asteroid will graze our fair planet at 201,700 miles. Though this distance—in which you could circle the globe more than eight times—may seem too great to be significant, it’s actually the closest an asteroid has come to the earth in decades. It’s also the largest asteroid that scientists have spotted before it arrived. Scientists are giddy about the closely-approaching rock, taking advantage of its proximity to track its movement and study its makeup. Unfortunately, amateur astronomers may have a difficult time spotting the space stone, as its presumably carbon-rich surface is very dark. In anticipation of the coming asteroid, which NASA scientists are certain won’t make contact with, we look back on some of the scariest and strangest things that have fallen from space.

NASA / AP Photo

6.5-Ton NASA Satellite

This past September, NASA warned that a 20-year-old satellite would come crashing down from space. But after days of hype and panic over where the 6.5-tons of metal would land, the decommissioned spacecraft finally soared to its fiery demise over the Pacific Ocean.

Still, it was the largest spacecraft to make an uncontrolled return to Earth and was launched IN 1991 before satellite disposal was as regulated as it is now. Spacecraft built since then are now required to contain a motor to extend its orbit or otherwise burn on re-entry.”

Corbis

Ice Crashes Into Home

Airlines usually take de-icing their planes pretty seriously. So it was quite a surprise when a block of ice fell off an airplane and through the roof of Penny and Bill White’s garage. The Henderson, Nev., couple was relieved that no one was hurt in the incident that blew a hole through their roof and shook their home. At the time, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration insisted that such incidents are highly uncommon.

NASA

Perseid Meteor Shower

The yearly Perseid meteor shower is something of a show. At its peak, shooting stars and meteors soar through the night sky like natural fireworks. As part of its orbiting cycle, Earth reaches the same stream of space matter at around the same time every year. The event gets its name from Perseus, the constellation from which the meteors are believed to originate. Stargazers may have been disappointed by this year’s Perseid shower, which was blocked by the moon’s glare for most of its peak. National Geographic advises that those determined to get the best view of the streaming light show should get as far as possible from polluted skies and face toward the constellation Perseus.

SSPL / Getty Images

Skylab

The Americans of 1979 probably shared the same anxiety as those of 2011 when they heard that the nine-story, 77.5-ton American Skylab was about to fall from space and burst into, as Time magazine put it then, “a celestial shower of flaming metal as spectacular as any of last week’s Fourth of July fireworks displays.” Skylab was America’s first space station of its kind, and its descent was just as unprecedented. Just six years after it was launched into Earth’s orbit, and 10 years after the first moon landing, Skylab fell back to Earth, scattering its many parts into the Indian Ocean and areas of western Australia.

Stephen B. Thornton, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / AP Photo

Dead Birds Falling

Thousands of dead birds fell from the sky over Arkansas as people were ringing in the start of 2011, prompting some to believe the end was near. But the mass bird death, which was followed by similar scenarios in other parts of the country, including Louisiana, could be more realistically explained by either strong weather conditions such as lightning or hail, or fireworks, which, in a rural area where birds live closer together, could have shocked them to death.

Hardy

It’s Raining Fish

Unlike the birds that fell to the ground in Arkansas and Louisiana earlier this year, the fish that rained on Australia in 2010 were very much alive. This wasn’t even the first time the Australian city of Lajamanu experienced fishy rain. Similar incidents were reported in the town in 1974 and 2004. A local weather forecaster noted at the time that the weather looked ripe for a tornado, which could explain the flying fish.

Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden/flickr

Jelly Rain?

Scottish locals were very confused when they found a strange white jelly scattered over their grass in 2009. Several theories were floated as to what the gooey substance could be, ranging from a fungus or mold to the remnants of female frogs or toads.

George Rose / Getty Images

Watch Out for That … Camera Lens

It is unlikely that some fearless photographer was leaning out of an airplane when this Canon camera lens fell through the clouds and through the roof of a Petaluma, Calif., home last week, but our guess is as good as any. The origin of the flying camera is unknown, and while an FAA spokesman said he’s never heard of cameras falling from planes, he also added that proving where this lens fell from would be a challenge.

Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

A Piece of Mars

The story of the meteorite from Mars that hit Egypt 100 years ago is part history and part legend. The meteorite that crashed into Alexandria in June 1911 is believed to have broken off from Mars after the Red Planet was hit by its own meteorite. A few historical accounts of the crash include an unlucky dog that got caught in the flying rock’s path. One eyewitness described the poor canine as turning to ashes upon impact. However, scientists found that once meteorites hit earth they are usually cold, making the dog-turned-to-ash account highly unlikely.

PictureNet / Corbis

Blue Ice, a.k.a. Airplane Bathroom Waste

Probably the most disgusting of things to fall from the sky in modern history is “blue ice,” the euphemistic phrase used to describe waste from airplane bathrooms. In 2002, at least one home outside Pittsburgh was covered in chunks of the stuff. Despite denying any responsibility for the dump, a crew from US Airways showed up at the defaced house five days later to clean off the mess.

Boyer, Roger Viollet / Getty Images

Willamette Meteorite

The largest natural object to fall from space and land in North America is the Willamette Meteorite. At 15.5 tons, the iron and nickel rock, which was discovered in 1902, is the sixth-largest object of its kind in the world. The Willamette joins the ranks of some of the most famous meteorites in history. Others include one of the oldest and largest, which hit a small commune in France in 1492, prompting the town’s inhabitants to break off parts of the rock, assuming it was magical. In 1803, a shower of thousands of meteorites vindicated German physicist Ernst Chladni’s scoffed-at theory that the rocks had originated in space, which he’d presented to his colleagues just nine years earlier.


Chris Sattlberger / Corbis

Gold!

Perhaps the most valuable object to have fallen from the sky thus far: gold! A recent study suggests that in its youth, Earth experienced a heavy meteor rain that changed the planet's chemical composition and resulted in the creation of gold and other precious metals we know and love today.