Satellite to be visible

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 | 6:14 p.m. CST; updated 4:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — Missourians are in position to see the satellite that the U.S. government plans on shooting down.

National security officers announced Thursday that they will shoot the satellite down sometime after Wednesday, using anti-ballistic missiles in the Pacific Ocean.

Val Germann, the president of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association, and Ralph Dumas, another member of the association, have been monitoring the satellite’s progress on, a Germany-based Web site that tracks, with a group of sky watchers around the globe, about 140 classified U.S. satellites and other man-made craft orbiting Earth.

The site predicts the satellite will pass over Columbia from 6:43 to 6:47 tonight, from 6:36 to 6:39 Wednesday night and — if it has not been shot down yet — between 6:29 and 6:30 Thursday night.

The satellite will appear in the west and will move across the sky toward the Big Dipper, Dumas said.

As the satellite gets closer to Earth, Dumas said, it is expected to be tumbling out of control. That means it won’t maintain a constant brightness as it streaks across the sky.

If the missile hits its mark, the satellite would be blown to pieces and would look like a meteor shower as the parts re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, Germann said.

Security officials are aiming for the pieces to come down in the Pacific, but Dumas said anything is possible.

The event is unprecedented, Germann said.

“The word unique — you mostly hear it and it isn’t appropriate,” Germann said. “But this is unique. This is an exact application of the word.”

The only problem for Earth-bound viewers: The forecast for Wednesday and Thursday night calls for cloud cover.

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