Image: Space debris
This image from video provided by KDVR-TV shows the remains of a Russian booster rocket that had launched a French space telescope last month, bursting into flames over Colorado and Wyoming on Thursday.
updated 1/4/2007 10:24:43 PM ET 2007-01-05T03:24:43

A spent Russian booster rocket re-entered the atmosphere Thursday over Colorado and Wyoming, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing flaming objects in the sky at the time the rocket was re-entering, NORAD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly said. Kelly said he was unable to confirm a report that a piece of the rocket may have hit the ground near Riverton, Wyo., at about 6 a.m. MT (8 a.m. ET).

Riverton Police Capt. Mark Stone said he saw the burning object while he was retrieving his newspaper.

“It was pretty spectacular,” Stone said. “My first concern is that we had some sort of aircraft that was coming down. It was definitely leaving a burning debris trail behind it.”

Stone said he could tell it was fairly large object, but it was too high to make out exactly what it was.

Sgt. Stephen Townsend of the Wyoming Highway Patrol said a trooper saw a 3-by-5-foot (1-by-1.5 meter) area burned in the snow about 35 feet (10 meters) from the edge of Wyoming Highway 28, south of Lander, but found no object.

The highway was closed at the time because of wintry weather, he said.

No damage was reported, and any debris that may have hit the ground was not believed to be hazardous, NORAD said.

NORAD identified the rocket as an SL-4 that had been used to launch France's COROT space telescope in December, and Kelly said U.S. spacewatchers knew the rocket was coming down.

“Objects falling from space are almost an everyday occurrence,” Kelly said.

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