Basalt man witnesses fiery treat | AspenTimes.com

Basalt man witnesses fiery treat

Fox 31 News provided this image from video showing the remains of a Russian booster rocket bursting into flames Thursday over Colorado and Wyoming. (KDVR/AP)

Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT ” Auden Schendler never dreamed a dip in his hot tub early Thursday morning would produce fireworks.

Schendler was soaking at his Basalt home when he caught sight of “one of the most remarkable things I’ve seen in my life.” He likened it to a really cool, colorful shooting star that lasted much longer, up to 20 seconds.

“I see what I think is a jet contrail getting reflected by the morning light,” Schendler said. “I look up, and it’s a field of flaming debris hovering over the whole western sky ” orange and white, moving incredibly slowly, so it was visible for 20 seconds.”

His first thought wasn’t so euphoric. “It was looking like an airplane that had blown up and was flaming across the sky,” he said.

Then he reconsidered and figured it was more like the aurora borealis, but he knew that wasn’t possible.

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Later in the morning, Schendler hopped a bus and skied on Aspen Mountain as part of the first tracks program. Nobody he encountered had seen the flaming debris. He eventually decided to keep his mouth shut about the incident so people didn’t think he was crazy. One of his ski partners suggested he call the North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base on Colorado’s Front Range.

When he told the operator there he had a question, the response was, “Let me guess ” you saw something big and bright.”

NORAD said in a statement that parts of a Russian SL-4 rocket body had broken up and burned upon re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. Some pieces of the rocket body might have survived the trip and crashed into earth, the agency said. Debris was most likely to be found in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico. The agency was investigating a report that a piece landed beside a highway near Riverton, Wyo.

There were no reports of injuries, and “the debris is not believed to be hazardous,” according to NORAD.

The Associated Press reported that the Russian rocket had launched a French space telescope Dec. 27.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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