Monday, March 30, 2009
Russian Rocket Scares East Coast
Beginning at 9:40pm on Sunday, March 29, skies from Pennsylvania to North Carolina lit up with unexplained flashes of blue, green, and orange along with loud thunderous noises. Residents flooded 911 operators with calls. People were reporting that they heard explosions in the distance. As Monday morning dawned there were no reports of damage and the weather service had no explanation for what so many witnessed in the night sky. However, by this afternoon an explanation was found. The Russian Federal Space Agency had launched a Soyuz rocket on Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to deliver a Russian Cosmonaut, a NASA flight engineer and a billionaire tourist to the international space station. The lights seen over the eastern US were the booster rocket from the Soyuz falling back to Earth. When the booster rocket hit the upper limits of the atmosphere, it was traveling at about 5 miles (8km) per second. At this speed, friction began to heat the booster causing the molecules around the booster to ionize giving off the blue, green, and orange flashes that so many people witnessed. The loud thunder like noise was a sonic boom.