Last night my older daughter and I ran out of the house and into the cold for three brief minutes to watch the satellite USA-193 zip beneath Orion’s feet. It was a thrill to see it, knowing that this spy satellite’s days were numbered.
With a bit of luck, the U.S. navy will not have shot down USA-193 by the time you read this. This satellite, which was launched into orbit in December 2006, almost immediately malfunctioned. Since then its orbit has been gradually deteriorating to the point where it poses a hazard should it come down over a populated area. Many satellites break up and burn harmlessly in our atmosphere as their orbits gradually "decay." USA-193 however is large and contains hydrazine fuel which can be toxic. It also has technology that we wouldn’t want to end up in the wrong hands. That’s why the Navy plans to launch a missile to break it up into small pieces that will not survive re-entry. The latest information indicates this will happen Wednesday evening our time somewhere over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.
Here are the times to see it from the Duluth-Superior area tonight,Tuesday, February 19. USA-193 will appear as a fairly bright, speedy "star" moving upward from the southwest. To make sure you don’t miss it, be outside and ready a few minutes before the pass. Tonight might be the only chance we have unless the missile misses its target. (Photo: Launch of USA-193, public domain image)
* First appearance at 6:45 p.m. low in the southwestern sky and reaching maximum altitude at 6:47 p.m. high in the southeast. It will fade from view only one minute later as it moves into the northeastern sky.
If you observe it, please let me know and I’ll post your comments.