Feeds

Quickening satellite quickens pulses at ESA

Speeding Rosetta orbiter baffles astro-boffins

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Baffled Boffins at the European Space Agency (ESA) are hoping that today's Earth fly-by of the Rosetta satellite will shed light on a problem of significant gravity.

At 07:45GMT this morning, the ESA's Rosetta started its third fly-past of the Earth, looking for a gravitational sling-shot. This particular event is being closely watched by scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, as since 1990 a problem has been bothering eggheads at both NASA and ESA.

Their satellites appear sometimes to be speeding up beyond the predictions set out by the laws of Physics. Even more confusingly, the speed anomaly appears to be random, with many similar missions not experiencing it at all.

Previous NASA missions, including Pioneers 10 and 11, have been subject to the effect. Rosetta experienced the anomaly itself on its first fly-by in 2005, when it was found to have accelerated to 0.0018 m/s above what was expected. However, the satellite did not display such an effect on its second visit to us in 2007.

One could wonder as to whether such a minuscule change in the satellite's speed is worth getting worried about. But a paper released by ESA scientists describes how the satellite had to be manoeuvred in order to compensate for the worrying burst of speed, which could have led to serious consequences if left unchecked.

It is the inability to predict the anomaly that has got scientists into a tizzy, and the lack of a simple answer has led to numerous exotic ideas having been put forward. These include potential distortions to Earth's space-time fabric, the influence of dark matter and even the prospect of changes being required to the General theory of relativity.

These are obviously the sorts of things that slide-rule toting geeks dream of, and the space-botherers are suitably aflutter at the possibilities. In the words of ESA's lead flight dynamics specialist, Trevor Morley: "As it stands now, no one knows what's behind this - it really is a mystery. And your prediction as to whether Rosetta will experience any swing by speed anomaly at all on 13 November is as good as anyone's."

So the boffins are excited. They're not sure if there is anything to be excited about, but they are excited. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
What's that STINK? Rosetta probe shoves nose under comet's tail
Rotten eggs, horse dung and almonds – yuck
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Kip Thorne explains how he created the black hole for Interstellar
Movie special effects project spawns academic papers on gravitational lensing
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.