2008-01-31 / Editorial

Of astrophysics and groundhogs

Saturday is Groundhog Day. But it seems that the grumpy old groundhog is getting some highflying competition from Chicken Little.

What's that you say - the sky is falling? One would think so given all the media attention this past week heaped on a couple of asteroids and a defunct spy satellite.

Asteroid TU24 - an icy chunk of space rocks about the size of a supermarket - zipped past the earth on Tuesday, missing us by a mere 330,000 miles.

In galactic terms, that was a close call. You could almost feel the solar winds in the asteroid's wake.

Tomorrow, a different asteroid will streak past Mars, missing our neighboring planet by just 16,000 miles.

It's enough to make you want to walk around with an umbrella over your head. Space is a busy place.

But wait, there's more. This week U.S. officials announced that one of our super secret spy-in-the-sky satellites is dead and will come plunging back to earth sometime in February.

Officials aren't saying where or when the satellite (which is about the size of a RIPTA bus) will re-enter the atmosphere. They admit that the 5-ton spacecraft will come down over the northern hemisphere . . . meaning right on top of us. We can take some solice in the fact that the satellite will probably burn up on re-entry and only a trail of debris will hit the ground.

So when Punxsutawney Phil faces the hot glare from the television lights this Saturday, he will have a lot more to worry about than whether we'll have an additional six weeks of winter.

- Jeff McDonough

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