[FPSPACE] Proton rocket explodes in orbit - one year after launch
ljk4 at msn.com
Wed Feb 21 09:24:18 EST 2007
ROCKET EXPLOSION: 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."
Photo details: Nikon FM2, 50mm lens, Kodak Elite Chrome 200, 30 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 ignited 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." Some of the fragments are visible in this movie made by Rob McNaught
at the Siding Spring Observatory, NSW, Australia:
Photo details: Canon 5D, 50mm lens, f/1.4, 20 x 20sec exposures.
"Spica is at the right edge of the animation and the fragments are moving to
the north and east," he says.
Eventually, the swarm will sink into the atmosphere, producing a man-made
meteor shower--the Briz-M-ids? Stay tuned for updates.
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