“From the Farside” –Long-Lost NASA Spacecraft Rises From the Dead After 13 years of silence

 
Spacex_zuma_ap

 

Rick Burley couldn’t believe what he was reading. The email on his computer screen, forwarded by his former colleague Jim Burch, was from someone named Scott Tilley. Tilley, an amateur astronomer in British Columbia, recently had been searching the skies for a signal from the Zuma satellite, a top-secret government mission that many believe failed after Zuma was launched into orbit last month.

 

His radio equipment detected a new signal, but it wasn’t from Zuma, reports today's The Atlantic. The signal, Tilley believed, came from a long-lost nasa spacecraft that mysteriously went silent without warning 13 years ago—and was never heard from again.

Burley had worked on that mission. It was called image: Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration. NASA launched the spacecraft in March 2000 to study the Earth’s magnetosphere, a region of charged particles trapped by the planet’s magnetic field and battered by solar winds. “image, as its name indicates, was about imaging the Earth’s magnetosphere and near-Earth environment in combinations of different ways that we’d never done before,” said the former image scientist Jim Spann, now the chief scientist at the science and technology office of NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center.

Using precise measurements, image visualized, among other things, what happens when particles from the sun come crashing into the magnetosphere and produce dancing auroras in the night sky. It created a complete picture, for the first time, of Earth’s invisible force field

And it did a good job of it, too, until suddenly, in December 2005, image stopped talking to Earth. nasa tried and tried to regain contact but heard nothing. The magnetosphere’s best photographer was finished.

Within hours, the email that stunned Burley reached many of the members of the old team. Burley was charged with leading the effort to confirm whether this signal was, indeed, coming from image. A few hours in, he dashed off a quick note to the growing email chain. “Status of activities taken today,” Burley wrote. “I’ve managed to clean all the coffee off of my laptop that I spit on it when I saw Jim Burch’s email this morning.”

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