The biggest pass of last night’s Super Bowl did not happen during the game, but an hour afterwards, far above Levi’s Stadium. According to the Associated Press, North Korea’s newest satellite passed overhead about an hour after the game’s conclusion, which came at about 7:25 p.m. NORAD, the North American Aerospace Command, has confirmed that there are now two North Korean satellites circling the globe.
The satellites, known as Kwanmyongsong (Shining Star) take 94 minutes to complete an orbit. Multiple international organizations have been tracking them. “It passed almost directly overhead Silicon Valley, which is where I am and where the stadium is,” technology journalist Martyn Williams wrote in an email to AP. “The pass happened at 8:26 p.m., after the game. I would put it down to nothing more than a coincidence, but an interesting one.”
North Korea itself has claimed four successful satellite launches, the last being confirmed on Sunday and tweeted by NORAD as “not a threat.” The previous missile was launched in 2012 and both are on the defense organization’s official list.
According to Pyongyang, Korea’s capital city, the satellites are simply Earth observation satellites weighing about 220 lbs. each. The seat of North Korean security also says that the satellites’ main functions are weather monitoring and mapping natural resources while also providing data to improve farming. Weather forecasters should also have an easier time getting things right.
The previous satellite was said to be transmitting the Song of General Kim Il Sung as well as the Song of General Kim Jong Il, though no one outside of North Korea has been able to confirm this. It’s possible that no matter what signal it’s putting out, the satellite might simply be unable to transmit anything all the way back. As for the recently launched satellite, the contents of its transmissions as well as the signal itself remains a mystery.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that the satellite itself, the final stage of the rocket that took it up there and two small pieces of debris are still trackable as they make their way around the planet. “It will stay up for a few more years,” McDowell said. “There’s no evidence that the spacecraft ever transmitted any signals. If it did work, I suspect it was for only a few hours, if at all.”
The satellite has been on a decaying orbit, but is still well above the International Space Station’s (ISS) orbit. As for the Super Bowl 50 satellite pass, “I have no idea when the end of the Super Bowl was, not a sports fan,” McDowell said. “But KMS-4 did pass over that part of California at 8:27 p.m. PST at an altitude of 480 kilometers. I calculate it was 35 miles west and 300 miles up as it passed overhead heading almost due north.”
If you’d like to track the satellites yourself, visit N2YO.com and search for KMS-4 and KMS 3-2.
- Get your Sagan on with 60 awe-inspiring photos of the final frontier
- SpaceX makes rocketry look easy, sticks yet another Falcon 9 landing
- Passion and tech took Terrell Lloyd from 49ers superfan to team photographer
- Death from above? How we’re preparing for a future filled with weaponized drones
- Dish Network vs. DirecTV: Battle of the satellite TV titans