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From Newsbytes News Network
Researchers Warn End Of Year Storm Threat To Satellites
- By Steve Gold, Newsbytes
As Hurricane Bonnie blows itself out on the East Coast of
America this weekend, many eyes are now looking spaceward as
researchers are warning that a hurricane in space could lay waste to
many of the earth's satellites in around 80 days.
According to a report in today's Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the Leonid
storm will bombard the earth with its worst meteor storm for 32 years.
The difference today, of course, is that there are thousands of
satellites in orbit around the earth. The biggest threat, Newsbytes
notes, is to geostationary satellites such as those used by DTH
(direct to home) satellite broadcasters, as well as telecommunications
satellites that must remain in place, relative to the earth, for
ground based dishes to track them.
According to the WSJ, as many as eleven meteor "storms" hit the earth
every year, but the Leonid storm is something else -- a fierce cluster
of meteorites that will have an intercept velocity of more than
150,000 miles per hour. At these sorts of speeds, Newsbytes notes,
even a speck of dust will have sufficient velocity to punch a hole in
sheet steel, let along the flimsy fabric of a satellite.
The Leonid storm is thought to be thicker and faster than any other
cluster of meteoric debris yet seen to hit the earth. The problem is
caused, scientists say, by the debris cloud having skirted the sun
late last year, causing larger clumps of matter to break up and gather
in a concentrated dust cloud.
When added to the slingshot effect of the sun's gravity and the
intercept angle with the earth's orbit, scientists say that the meteor
storm is travelling at between two and three times the "normal" speed
for meteors when they arrive within the earth's gravity field.
The WSJ notes that, when the last serious meteor storm occurred back
in 1966, there were relatively few satellites in orbit, and most of
those were either used for weather forecasts and spy observations.
Today, however, significant portions of the telecommunications
spectrum is reliant on satellites -- even the new generation of LEO
(low earth orbit) satellites are not immune, Newsbytes notes, as there
is little atmosphere to burn up mini meteorites before they intercept
the satellite's orbit.
Most satellite firms are not worried about the Leonid storm, mainly
because they have insurance against failures, as well as backup
satellites which can replace the zapped ones as and when they fail.
However, scientists are predicting that the effects of the storm could
be more serious than expected. The satellite operators, meanwhile, are
taking no chances, and are reshaping their satellite solar arrays to
minimize any possible damage. NASA also plans to move its Hubble
telescope so that it faces away from the main blast of the meteor
storm, again minimizing the potential effects.
Article posted on 08/30/98
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