Astronomers Lose Access to Government Satellites


Nothing to see here, folks. (© iStockphoto.com/ duuuna)

Let the conspiracy theories run wild. For years, planetary scientists and astronomers have benefited from an unofficial arrangement with the U.S. Military. With access to data from the Defense Support Program satellite network (part of the Pentagon's early-warning system), they've had the ability to better study incoming meteorites -- but no longer.

While the breakup popped up on Space.com just last week, Nature.com reports that the relationship came to an effective end at the beginning of 2009. Interestingly enough, this roughly corresponds to the activation of the United States' latest $10 billion fleet of new-generation surveillance satellites.

The United States has used infrared satellites to monitor the Earth since 1970. If anyone launches a missile or detonates a nuclear weapon, theses satellites pick up on the heat signature. Likewise, if anything enters the Earth's atmosphere and burns a path through the sky, it'll note that as well.

Experts tend to believe that the deployment of new satellite technology is the reason scientists have been cut out of this particular information source. The government simply doesn't want details on the new gear and its capabilities leaking out. After all, the satellite network's primary purpose is to aid national security.

As sensible as that sounds, however, there's still no official reason for the arrangement's end. As such, by all means, dream up with some truly harebrained possibilities on your own. Is the U.S. government covering up the steady stream of incoming alien ships, which leave laden with probed human captives and choice cuts of beef? Are Pentagon nerds using the satellites to spy on sorority houses "Animal House" style?

What do you think?

Keep watching the skies at HowStuffWorks.com: How Asteroids Work How Satellites Work How did a meteor make hundreds of people sick? What if the Chicxulub meteor had missed the Earth? Top 10 Space Conspiracy Theories


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.