Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Space War

Okay, this is really interesting.
Australian astronomer Ray Palmer was photographing the Southern Cross from his observatory in Western Australia on Feb. 19th when a flaming plume cut across the Milky Way. "I had no idea what it was," he says. "It was moving very slowly and I was able to track it for 35 minutes."

In mid-apparition the object exploded. Gordon Garradd of New South Wales photographed an expanding cloud filled with specks of debris. Tim Thorpe of South Australia saw it, too. "Quite a surreal scene," he says.

What was it? It was a mystery for almost 24 hours until satellite expert Daniel Deak matched the trajectory of the plume in Palmer's photo with the orbit of a derelict rocket booster--"a Briz-M, catalog number 28944."

One year ago, the Briz-M sat atop a Russian Proton rocket that left Earth on Feb. 28, 2006, carrying an Arabsat-4A communications satellite. Shortly after launch, the rocket malfunctioned, leaving the satellite in the wrong orbit and the Briz-M looping around Earth partially-filled with fuel. On Feb. 19, 2007, for reasons unknown, the fuel tanks ruptured over Australia.

Jon P. Boers of the USAF Space Surveillance System confirms the ID and notes "later, on the other side of the world, our RADAR saw 500+ pieces in that orbit." Today the count is up to 1111 fragments. "We're seeing more fragments as the cloud expands," he explains.

I thought for a moment we were seeing evidence of a galatic battle. In any event, I think it's clear that skies in the southern hemisphere are more interesting than ours.


Polly said...

What did Maxx do to set that rocket fuel alight?

Can't blame Maxx for playing in the Southern skies, the atmosphere must be so clean in southern Australia and New Zealand.

poopyman said...

Since everything orbits around the center of the earth, everything orbiting the earth that is seen in the Southern Hemisphere comes around to the same latitude in the Northern Hemisphere. That's why the USAF radar saw the 500+ fragments. That was over us.

This is probably going to become a PITA for manned missions. From a article:
The orbit of the debris pieces will eventually decay due to atmospheric drag and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. "But it's a relatively high orbit," Matney said. "I suspect they'll be in orbit for a very long time, maybe decades."

Meaning they're now probably higher than manned missions go, but will slowly come down, until they reenter.

four legs good said...

poopyman, of course for the debris.

I just meant their stars are more interesting. Southern Cross and all that.

Less light pollution too, I imagine.

Poopyman said...

Wonder why I wrote that blurb? Oh well...

According to New Zealand's population clock the whole country only has slightly more than 4 million people! Mucho dark skies! Ditto for the most of Australia, particularly the interior.

I've only been as far south as Martinique, which was barely far enough to catch the Magellanic Clouds. I'd love to visit NZ some time for the scenery, skies, and sailing. Looks like the South Island is very rural.