Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Earth's Strange Gravitational Anomaly to be Probed

POPSCI - November 2, 2012 by Rebecca Boyle

STE-QUEST Planned Orbit This map shows the ground track of the STE-QUEST satellite's 16-hour orbit. Jorge Paramos and Gerald Hechenblaikner/via arXiv
Something strange happens to spacecraft swinging past Earth for a gravity boost--they suddenly speed up, and their trajectories change in unexpected ways. It’s a tiny change, but enough that physicists have started to take notice. The European Space Agency is planning a new mission that could measure this gravity anomaly and figure out if a new, unknown physics is at work.

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Before heading out to far-flung destinations in the solar system, spacecraft often slingshot around the Earth, so the planet’s gravity provides a boost to send them on their way. In several cases in the 1990s and early 2000s, scientists saw an unexplained change in spacecraft velocities after their closest Earth-shaves. They didn't see it in action, in part because the satellites weren't logged into the Deep Space Network when it happened and even when they were, there’s a 10-second delay between data acquisitions. But they knew it did happen because the spacecraft trajectories changed.

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