posted on Dec, 12 2012 @ 11:05 PM
Originally posted by dorkfish87
I've got a gut feeling we will find out what this mystery object is the hard way. How can we view planets orbiting distant stars but can't figure
out what something in our orbit is?
Detecting planets around other stars usually involves a lot of very precise observation and an obscene amount of math. Astronomers look for miniscule
"wobbles" in a star, caused by the gravity of an orbiting planet or planets, and for tiny periodic changes in stellar brightness, caused when a
non-radiating body transits the star. Even if a planet is detected, we don''t have a lot of details about it...we can figure its approximate size,
mass, orbital period, orbital distance, and, if we're lucky, we can get some information on any atmosphere by spectroscopic analysis. We can't tell
if there are cities there, or even land of any size. We can just put a dot on our stellar map and a note "here there be dragons...err..planets".
Looking at a satellite in orbit, we have another kind of puzzle. We have more data (direct visual and / or radar observation at relatively short
range), and that will give us a fair amount of data. We can fairly rapidly figure out a satellite's physical size, rough shape, and mass. We can
calculate its orbital period and inclination to a ridiculous number of decimal points. What we can't do is see inside the beeping thing. We can make
educated guesses, based on the type of orbit (polar orbits are popular with weather birds, geosynchronous orbits are popular with communications
birds, spy satellites tend to wind up in odd-looking orbits that maximize their time over points of interest, etc.
Given the small size and mass of the North Korean satellite, it's almost certainly not a weapon...it's not big or heavy enough to be a nuclear or
EMP device. We can probably rule out a "rod from God" kinetic weapon as well. It might be exactly what the North Koreans claim it is. We (or at
least the US government and some close allies) will probably have a better idea of its mission if and when it starts sending data back to ground
stations, and our ELINT platforms can intercept it.