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The nose of the rocket used to launch Sputnik I should come down to earth some time this weekend, possibly blazing like a meteor, Fred L. Whipple, Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, announced last night.
Whipple said that the rocket has slowly been nearing the earth's atmosphere, and now comes within 105 miles of the earth on its orbit.
Astronomers at the observatory are reluctant to give an exact time for the rocket to re-enter the atmosphere, because they are not sure how the shell will reach the air layer.
Since it is spinning end-over-end, the rocket could catch the air length-wise, and stay in the atmosphere for some time, carried along by the motion of the earth. Or, as an alternative, it could rapidly rush to the earth.
When the rocket re-enters the atmosphere it could travel about 1000 miles before landing, leaving a blazing trail if it falls at night. If it re-enters in the daytime, it could leave a dark trail in the sky as it gives off particles and vapor.
May Land in United States
There is a good possibility that the shell might land in the United States. Its orbit carries it over the country six times each day. If its parts can with stand the tremendous heat of air friction it could pass through the atmosphere and land substantially intact.
Whipple reported that the observatory will notify all Moon watch teams and the Armed Forces to be on the alert over the weekend, even during hours when the rocket might not be visible in the sky.
The observatory would welcome any chance of examining any parts of the rocket, the astronomer concluded, and would welcome all sightings on objects in the sky, even if they are real meteors.
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