An amateur astronomer just discovered a long-lost NASA zombie satellite

Image
NASA
Scott Tilley is an amateur visual and radio astronomer whose hobby is tracking satellites — specifically, classified spy satellites. As detailed at his blog Riddles in the Sky, he recently stumbled across something unusual: a NASA satellite that has been lost in space since 2005, happily chattering away to anyone who would listen.

Luckily, Tilley was.

Tilley was on a hunt for Zuma, the secret Air Force spy satellite that was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on January 7, but failed to achieve orbit. No one knew what Zuma was or what its mission was, but initial reports suggest that the Falcon 9 had no part in the mission failure, and it may have been due to the uncoupling procedure designed by Northrop Grumman, which built the satellite.

In any case, Zuma supposedly met with a fiery death on reentry. Or did it?

While searching for any evidence of the classified satellite in orbit, Tilley ran across some unusual transmissions. Subsequent observations indicated that they were likely coming from a 17-year-old NASA satellite called IMAGE (Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration), which was launched on a Delta-II rocket in 2000 to map the Earth’s magnetosphere. IMAGE used a variety of sensors, including neutral atom, ultraviolet, and radio imaging to observe plasma in the upper magnetosphere.

After years of successful operation, IMAGE ceased responding in 2005, possibly due to a power failure in the transponder controller. However, there remained the possibility that IMAGE could reboot itself when it passed through the Earth’s shadow.

“Periodically the spacecraft will enter an eclipse and NASA surmised that this may trigger it to restart and apply power back to the communications system. That appears to have happened!” Tilley wrote. “As you will note from the plots below the Sun angles are presently good for IMAGE and it may just stay operational for some time to come.”

Word of the discovery quickly reached scientists who had worked on the mission, according to Science. “The odds are extremely good that it’s alive,” said Patricia Reiff, a space plasma physicist. “The team is collectively holding their breath waiting for some real information exchange between IMAGE and the ground.”

America Space reached out to the space agency for comment, and they were cautiously optimistic. “We’re still not sure it really is IMAGE, but we are working to identify people knowledgeable about the mission after all this time and working on getting all the appropriate scripts and software in-place just in case it is IMAGE,” said Jeff Hayes of NASA.

If the spacecraft is indeed operational, it could resume its mission by monitoring Earth’s northern auroral zone. “At the very least it made for an interesting Saturday afternoon in the radio room,” said Tilley.

Emerging Tech

NASA wants to send two more missions to Mars to collect rock samples

With its Mars 2020 mission, NASA hopes to collect samples from the surface of the planet. The challenge is how to get those samples back to Earth. Now, NASA has revealed its plans for two followup missions to Mars.
Emerging Tech

NASA selects landing site candidates for OSIRIS-Rex to sample asteroid Bennu

Last year, the OSIRIS-REx craft arrived at asteroid Bennu, from which it will collect a sample from the asteroid to be brought back to Earth. Now, the NASA team has selected four potential sites to choose from for the sampling mission.
Movies & TV

Who needs sunshine? Stay inside and watch the best movies on Netflix instead

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Emerging Tech

Europe’s free land could house enough wind turbines to power the world

Think wind turbines aren't a realistic means of powering the world? An international team of researchers have worked out that there is enough available land in Europe to do the job.
Emerging Tech

DARPA’s next robotics competition is an obstacle course in an abandoned mine

Kicking off this week, the DARPA Subterranean Challenge will put 11 robotics teams through their paces in a simulated disaster scenario in a defunct mine system in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Emerging Tech

Amazing app promises a full fitness checkup from a 30-second selfie

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed an app that's able to gather vital health information about users with nothing more invasive than a 30-second selfie. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Google’s soccer-playing A.I. hopes to master the world’s most popular sport

Think the player A.I. in FIFA ‘19 was something special? You haven’t seen anything yet! That’s because Google is developing its own soccer-playing artificial intelligence. And, if the company’s history with machine intelligence is…
Emerging Tech

Amazon’s facial recognition updates can detect fear, among other emotions

Amazon’s facial recognition software can detect emotion on people’s faces. The company announced improvements in emotion detection, including: Happy, sad, angry, surprised, disgusted, calm, confused, and fear.
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is developing A.I. missiles that can choose their own targets

The U.S. military wants to equip itself with a new type of artificial intelligence-guided missile, which will use A.I. smarts to pursue its targets. Prototypes will be shown off in 2021.
News

UPS partners with TuSimple to test self-driving semi-trucks

UPS has been carrying truckloads of goods in self-driving semi-trucks since May. The vehicles are being tested in Arizona routes between Phoenix and Tucson for better service and efficiency for UPS delivery.
Emerging Tech

Astro the dog-inspired quadruped robot can sit, lie down, and… learn?

Move over Spot! Researchers from Florida Atlantic University have built a new dog robot called Astro. Thanks to deep learning technology, it promises to be able to learn just like a real dog.
Health & Fitness

We spit in a ton of test tubes to find the best and most unique DNA tests

DNA tests aren’t just limited to ancestry. You can test for your risks for certain diseases, the best workouts and diets for your health and fitness, and more.
Emerging Tech

Artificial tree promises to suck up as much air pollution as a small forest

Startup Biomitech has developed an artificial tree that it claims is capable of sucking up as much air pollution as 368 real trees. It could be a game-changer for cities with limited free space.