''Bulge'' in Shuttle Columbia photo--any speculation yet?

I apologize if this has already been covered, but. . .

We’ve all seen the grainy photo that shows a bulge on the leading edge of the left wing. Have any of the experts given any speculation on what was causing a bulge on the leading edge.

I’m not a rocket scientist, so in my simplistic view–assuming that the crash was caused by damage to the left wing–I would have expected to see (if anything) a dent, rather than a bulge.

Gremlin on the wing.

I don’t recall seeing a bulge. It looked more like a piece of the middle section being gone, making the fuselage intersection looking like it stuck out.

Here’s a large version of the photograph. The “bulge” itself is only 2-3 pixels wide, in a photo of the shuttle that spans ~60 pixels. I haven’t heard what the angular resolution is between pixels, but it’s quite possible that the whole effect is an artifact produced by atmospheric turbulence of the same sort that causes stars to twinkle.
NASA’s STS-107 Investigation Reference Page is a good source for Shuttle related information.

Over at samizdata.net, someone thought a projection at the end of the shuttle in that photo might be a plasma plume in a line with the apparent damage on the front of the wing. Obviously this isn’t official and I have no idea if it’s significant or even real, so take it with a grain of salt. But it is interesting.

A look at the Starfire Optical Range’s site “the world’s premiere adaptive optics center”(a divison of the directed energy directorate) turns up some pretty impressive shots of meteor trails and “spectroscopic” binary stars, but nothing on how they photographed the shuttle.

The photo was made by some geeks goofing around in their time off with a twelve year old mac they found in a cupboard and a run of the mill telescope. They wanted to play around with software for taking pictures of fast moving objects.

Looking for the cite.

What are you talking about? NASA says that it was taken at the Starfire Optical Range. Are you claiming this is false, or that they used a plain amateur telescope for this? Neither is very likely. Tracking a spacecraft in orbit is hard enough with an amateur telescope. With an aircraft (which the Shuttle was by this stage), you can’t calculate the trajectory in advance so it’s even harder.

Nope, Kipper’s right: ‘Hi-tech’ shuttle pic really low-tech. The picture may have been taken at the Starfire Optical Range, but it was taken by a bunch of guys just messing around with a 3 1/2 inch telescope and an 11-year old Mac.

Cucumber. Everyone knows that.

OK, I stand corrected. I admit I’m not up to speed on modern amateur telescopes - last time I bought a telescope, 32x slew rate was considered fast.

Anybody know how high up the Shuttle was at the time the photo was taken?

The caption for the photo on the NASA site says the picture was taken at approximately 7:57 a.m CST (1357 GMT).


From the ground track timeline that would put the shuttle at about 218,000 feet traveling between Mach 20 and Mach 21.

http://www.nasa.gov/columbia/107_ground_tracks.pdf (PDF)