As NASA continues its probe into the precise cause of the space shuttle Columbia disaster, government researchers are confirming the recording of explosions as the orbiter broke apart during its fatal descent.
Falling space shuttle debris (Photo: nbc5i.com)
According to a report in the Toledo Blade, some scientists believe the recordings could shed light on the theory that an electrical phenomenon called a “blue jet” knocked the shuttle out of the sky.
“We have detected sounds from shuttle re-entries in the past,” Dr. Alfred Bedard Jr. of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said when asked about the content of infrasound recordings from Columbia. “But we’ve been asked not to discuss the results publicly, and we will honor that request.”
Bedard, part of a panel of scientists who reported on infrasound research at the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver, says the recordings have now been sent to NASA for analysis.
While the human ear can hear sounds with a frequency of 20 to 20,000 Hertz, or cycles per second, infrasound is below 20 Hz.
Bedard has used infrasound sensor arrays stationed in Colorado to listen for mysterious electrical discharge events in the upper atmosphere.
The Blade reports pilots and amateur astronomers have reported glimpsing the phenomenon for years, but the lack of scientific confirmation led to terms such as “elves,” “sprites,” “sprite halos,” “blue jets,” and even “trolls.”
Such discharges have since been verified, and are now known as Transient Luminous Events, taking place above thunderstorms and lightning strikes.
In 1989, an electrical strike destroyed a high-altitude NASA balloon 129,000 feet over Dallas, according to the Blade, and scientists suspect a TLE – perhaps a lightning bolt – leaped from a thunderhead anvil to the balloon.
As WorldNetDaily previously reported, NASA is now examining a photo taken by an astronomer in San Francisco that shows what could be an electrical phenomenon zapping Columbia just before it disintegrated.
Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore has said that NASA continues to study the unreleased photograph, and Bedard wouldn’t comment on whether his sensors heard evidence of a TLE coinciding with the demise of the orbiter.
A second infrasound expert, Dr. Eugene Herrin of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said his sensors also detected explosions on Columbia. His infrasound array for the U.S. Air Force is located near Terlingua, Texas.
In six minutes of recordings from Columbia, Herrin describes seven large, distinct explosions that were initially heard over eastern New Mexico.
He says a preliminary look at data collected by another array of instruments outside Mina, Nev., show “unusual” patterns when compared to data from other shuttle flights.
“There was something about this one. I am not going to speculate. What we see are oscillations in the shock wave that we don’t normally see. Whether that’s diagnostic or not, that’s a NASA call,” Herrin said.
The last voice communication from the shuttle crew came as Columbia streaked across New Mexico before breaking apart two minutes later.
Searchers spent yesterday scouring New Mexico’s Embudito Canyon looking for any debris that may have fallen in the region after residents reported hearing “a whooshing sound like something falling out of the sky.”
“I was in my backyard at around 7:05 a.m. [on Feb. 1],” said Dave Baldwin, a Northeast Heights resident, in an e-mail to the Albuquerque Tribune. “I heard what I believed at the time to be a sonic boom with a faint echo. I did not see anything associated with the sound.”
“When you hear something, you can usually tell which direction you heard it from and factor in how far sound will travel and how far someone might have heard a noise like that,” said Department of Public Safety spokesman Peter Olson.
No remnants of Columbia turned up in the search, as some pieces of metal turned out to be parts of a beer can and sardine container.
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