Pentagon Denies Scientists Access to Meteors Data

Pentagon to deny scientists access to meteors data
Published 18 June 2009

There was an unofficial arrangement between the Pentagon and top U.S. scientists: the Pentagon’s missile-launch and nuclear-blast detection satellites are also great for spotting meteors as they flame out in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the Pentagon shared the latter information with scientists; the Pentagon says it will no longer do so.

This cannot be good news: A new rule by the U.S. Department of Defense will deny U.S. top scientific the ability to check out data from classified satellites on incoming meteors hurtling toward earth.

Nature’s Geoff Brumfiel reports that the Pentagon ended an informal arrangement with astronomers that gave the scientists access to data from the Defense Support Programsatellite network, part of the Pentagon’s early-warning system. Nathan Hodge writes that these satellites can detect missile launches or atmospheric nuclear blasts, but they are also great for spotting meteors as they flame out in the Earth’s atmosphere.

According to Brumfiel, the military provided some data to astronomers, often through “anonymous, tersely worded e-mail[s] describing the coordinates, altitude and size of a fireball.” While the information was succinct, it was of great help to researchers.

Brumfiel was not able confirm why this ad hoc arrangement ended, although one of his sources notes that the change coincided with the expensive and hush-hush Space-Based Infrared System entering operational service.

-read more in Geoff Brumfiel, “Astronomers :Lose Access to Military Data: Satellite Information on Incoming Meteors Is Blocked, Nature 459 (12 June 2009): 896-97 (doi:10.1038/459897a)


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