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An alien spaceship opened a wormhole to a location in near-Earth orbit just long enough for a ship to come through. The ship intended to make public, peaceful contact with Earth upon arrival, but experienced trouble in transit such that it's passengers were using the escape pods immediately after exiting the wormhole. The abandoned ship fell to Earth over the next few minutes.

In the story that I'm writing, only a few parties noticed the ship falling to Earth: namely, a handful of major world governments. What would have prevented many people on Earth have seen the shuttle fall, and making it public news? It's a few hundred meters long, so my understanding is that any lucky person with a decent telescope should have been able to see it, especially as it crashed down.

I'm willing to accept that the escape pods might be unnoticed thanks to some kind of alien stealth (if you have to emergency eject, chances are you also want to hide where you're going from someone). However, the original ship was definitely not using any kind of stealth.

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    $\begingroup$ Have you ever observed a part of a spacecraft or launch vehicle burning in the atmosphere upon re-entry? Do you know anybody who has? It happens at least two or three times per week, somewhere in the world... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 12 '19 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ What could prevent making something public news? - North Korea won WWIII. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 10 at 16:49
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Something else happened that day and nobody was looking there

Years ago, there was an important earthquake in Indonesia (of magnitude 6,5). About 10 confirmed deaths and thousands of houses, schools and buildings destroyed. It was one of the ten stronger earthquakes that year. Yet no media covered it. Why? It happened on september 11, 2001 (1).

A lot of other stuff happened that day, but it was obscured by one single event of such importance that to this day, it is nearly impossible to find sources about any of these others events. Ever heard about the Organization of American States voting for the Inter-American Democratic Charter? Well, whatever it was, it happened that day too.

Our planet is full of people. People do things all the time. If your alien spaceship crashed the same day as the Superbowl, the death of the Pope or the Space Shuttle Disaster, then media coverage would probably brush it as "Another UFO spotted in Indiana: no one cares".

(1): to be honest, the real earthquake happened on september 5, the one on september 11 was merely a replica.

And now for something different: The Kryponian solution

Another reason could be: whatever exited the wormhole, it was not the only thing.

In many iterations of Superman, Lex Luthor discovers that Superman traveled from Krypton in a pod, along with the debris of his planet that fell on Earth at the same time as he did. In the TV series Smallville, these asteroids crash on the eponymous city and baby superman's pod just happens to be one of them.

So the "trouble in transit" could be debris dragged by the ship along the vortex, or the spaceship colliding with unexpected asteroids on exiting the wormhole. At this point, the spaceship is no longer the only thing falling on earth: it is accompanied by hundreds or thousands of bolides and, although perfectly visible, goes completely unnoticed because it is now a needle in a haystack (and the haystack is on fire).

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Earth is still mostly an empty planet.

Wast stretches of ocean and entire continents like Antarctica have virtually no observers. If spaceship appeared over an unpopulated area and descended to the surface without crossing over any populated area, its appearance and demise would be unnoticed.

However, if it would be flying through Earth atmosphere without gradually disintegrating, i.e. making a big "boom" either at altitude, or at landing/splashdown, this effect would be noticed regionally or even globally. So to go down unnoticed, the ship should burn down smoothly when falling to Earth.

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  • $\begingroup$ Answer may be overestimating the effective notability of such an event even near relatively populated areas. The earth sees over a dozen meteors large enough to impact the ground daily, and more that vaporize before impact. - But core of the answer "Earth is big and no one is watching" lets a craft set down with a good chance of few humans actually noticing if it doesn't do anything excessively drastic on entry/impact. $\endgroup$ – TheLuckless Nov 12 '19 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ There was a sizeable explosion over the pacific a few years ago. How do we know it happened? A few frames obtained from a weather satellite. If it had of happened a few minutes later the satellite would not have even seen it. Most such satellites are owned and operated by bureaucracies, if it were a National Security Concern it could easily be tied up for decades. $\endgroup$ – Kain0_0 Nov 13 '19 at 1:05
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The spacecraft is the size of a walnut.

It was not noticed because it is small. Many such tiny objects crash into the Earth; some make it all the way down and hit the surface. They are meterorites. Persons watching the sky might have seen this spacecraft glow on entering the atmosphere and assumed it was a meteorite.

Those who were aware of its true nature might have other methods for watching things near earth, or perhaps the angular sides of the spacecraft have a non-meteorite radar profile that gave it away.

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  • $\begingroup$ There's hundred meter long walnuts? $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Nov 14 '19 at 1:28
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There is the possibility present of the ship crashing and entering atmosphere over a deserted area. That being said, the ship could be accompanied by whatever caused the trouble, as kikirex stated. If it entered over populated areas, there could've been a festival, everyone could've been sleeping, or the attention was directed elsewhere...

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The ship was destroyed before it even reached our atmosphere.

Alexander and kikirex's answers are both great, I just thought that I'd add another possible explanation.

The ship intended to make public, peaceful contact with Earth upon arrival, but experienced trouble in transit such that it's passengers were using the escape pods immediately after exiting the wormhole. The abandoned ship fell to Earth over the next few minutes.

Depending on what the trouble you mention really is, it could imply a whole bunch of different things for the ship. Did some of the crew turn out to be members of an extremist group that sabotaged the ship? Did their nuclear reactor experience a meltdown in the middle of the wormhole? Did they open the exit for their wormhole in the middle of a solar storm, damaging their navigation equipment and sending them on a crash course towards the moon?

Any number of scenarios could end up in the ship being severely damaged, maybe even exploding somewhere in space, resulting in fragments falling to earth instead of the whole ship, which makes it far easier for us to miss its impact.

If you need the ship to survive this event, then mayeb you don't want to choose this. But perhaps a few fragments survived, and some of the technology can be reverse engineered to be used by NASA, leading to interesting developments

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If the object came out of the wormhole near Earth, but at a low relative velocity (so it would have had to use its engines to enter orbit), it would have entered the atmosphere significantly slower than even satellites. This would reduce atmospheric heating significantly, so you might not have any readily visible fireball: ICBM warheads, as an example, reach an altitude of up to 1400 kilometers, but don't create massively observable fireballs coming back down.

Combine that with coming down during daylight hours (no one really using telescopes at that time) over either of the polar regions or most of the Southern Ocean, and the odds of anyone seeing it would be really low.

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