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Old 3rd October 2011, 05:07 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Earth orbiting monitoring question.

Hello everyone

I have just signed up to this form to hopefully obtain some information that I need to make my storyline more authentic.

I am writing a sci-fi graphic novel and with out spilling the full can of beans I would like to know some technical information.

If a giant UFO suddenly appeared in orbit (no long term monitoring of incoming object like traditional plot lines) around earth, apart from the space lab what other type of monitoring (specifically cameras on it) are available to view it?

If the UFO caused interferences to the electronics (i.e. satellites, etc) what options would there be to see it in live time?

Would NORAD be the second to see it once it suddenly appeared or are they at the same advantage of the space lab? Do they have live visuals on the surrounding earth orbit 24/7?

Just how much visual do we really have to view the immediate surroundings of our planet?

Remember the key part of this is the UFO suddenly appears.

Thanks

Black Owl
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Old 3rd October 2011, 08:25 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Earth orbiting monitoring question.

Since this is fictional—and especially since the military isn't going to advertise what sensing equipment they have available—you could easily write up anything you want. Even though current spaceflights are already accounted for, and NORAD claims to be able to track everything down to the size of a baseball, you can toss in some live video monitoring if you wish. Video wouldn't be terribly useful for watching things in orbit, but since cameras are cheap, tiny, and of excellent quality these days, I don't see the addition of such "useless" equipment as much of a penalty to the weight or power requirements of the craft. Perhaps the military would rather be prepared for anything.

For future reference, Project Rho has a wealth of information.
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Old 3rd October 2011, 09:14 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Earth orbiting monitoring question.

Thanks for that link, Metryq.
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Old 3rd October 2011, 11:14 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Earth orbiting monitoring question.

Due to the vastness of space (blah, blah) it is quite possible that it wouldn't be detected immediately, just depends where people are looking. On the whole, most orbital monitoring will be looking the other way; ie. most satellites are looking down at the planet to spot things happening (like missile launches etc). When looking into nearby space we tend to be looking at things we already know are there. After all, bearing in mind that for the most part we are not expecting aliens to arrive on our doorstep, so where would anything unknown come from that hasn't first been picked up by monitoring launches from the surface? In other words I doubt there is any kind of constant monitoring for unexpected arrivals in orbit. So I would say, depending on just how big your UFO is, it would be perfectly possible for it to be first discovered by an amateur astronomer, you'd me amazed just how many things out there are first noticed by amateurs.
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Old 3rd October 2011, 01:40 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Earth orbiting monitoring question.

Another thought just occurred to me—in Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters the alien ships were able to pass undetected through Earth radar not because of any fancy cloaking devices or hyperspatial jumps but because radar had become too specialized. According to the story, early radar had spotted the alien recon ships many times, but had been ignored as "ghosts" and other artifacts of the new technology. Later generations of radar used discrimination circuits to help the operators see what they were supposed to see. (For example, the weather radars used on TV meteorology reports don't show air traffic.) And so the radar net "failed" mankind when the actual invasion began.

I don't know if the same argument could be made today, as there are so many different kinds of radar and other types of remote sensing. (Look up the article on "Stealth" at the Project Rho link above.) Computer software today is also "smarter" than fixed discriminator circuits—but only if the human software engineer is smart enough to code for it. For example, in the book Jurassic Park it was made clear that the computer system designed to visually account for a given quota of dinosaurs had not been programmed to sound the alarm if it counted too many of a given breed of dinosaur.

That might be one way to "slip in" Vertigo's amateur sighting—if you want to use that idea.
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Old 3rd October 2011, 04:08 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Earth orbiting monitoring question.

As Metryq says, NORAD and NASA do carry out tracking of objects in orbit, but most of that is in Low Earth Orbit. After that, you're talking a lot of space to monitor. You could probably sit in Medium or High Earth Orbit and the first to see you would probably be an astronomer, as Vertigo suggested. They seem to be the ones most on the lookout for oddities, such as uncategorised asteroids.

Length of time? Not sure. Maybe an astronomer might know how often the sky is covered.
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Old 3rd October 2011, 06:25 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Earth orbiting monitoring question.

Suddenly appears in Earth orbit with no energy emission or space-distorting phenomena that would upset sensitive scientific experiments on four continents? That sounds like deliberate stealth technology to me. After all, even if you've been using your wormhole generation system for a couple of centuries and it's totally mature engineering it has to be easier to get it more or less right, then use conventional drive systems to adjust your velocity and position, than get all that precisely right before setting off.

Mind you, "Earth orbit" is a fairly wide term; the moon is in Earth orbit and it would be a darn sight harder to see than Telstar if it weren't so big.

So, you say a "giant UFO" – about how big? 500 metres, five kilometres, five hundred kilometres? And what albedo? If they're deliberately trying to hide it there's no reason why it needs to radiate or reflect anything much in the visual bands, and very few amateur astronomers work in the infra-red (if they're serious about stealthing, since they know where potential observers have to be they could direct their waste energy outwards, away from the planet; in which case they'd only be noticeable when they eclipsed a star, and who's going to suspect that wasn't a beetle flying close to the telescope?).

The larger end of my size range would eventually be detected by gravity measurements (ultimately, if they're not too far out, even by the variation of satellite orbits). However, unless you can get it on visual, calculate its distance and rough size (from how long it occludes a particular star, since you know its speed), just about any explanation for your strange readings is going to be considered before "ruddy great alien spacecraft used not to be there and now is".

Radar (and other active detection systems) nowadays is directional. No more omnidirectional transmissions and see what you get as reflections. It sweeps, certainly, but its aimed. Air traffic control isn't going to scan for loose meteors; it wouldn't know which runway to bring them down on, anyway. Almost all of space is a disappointment to scan, anyway; just the little bit right close to our planet is full of interesting junk that might fall on us. If it were foolish enough to choose geostationary, it would probably be spotted pretty fast (as well as risking a lot of the aforementioned junk)

Obviously all this assumes they don't want to be seen, that they're deliberately sneaking in. If they just happen to achieve perfect synchronisation by coincidence they could well be painted fluorescent orange, with 10kW running lights every twenty metres. Even the aiming scopes on the big reflectors are likely to notice that, and even a post-graduate writing his thesis on nebular formation in the lesser Magellanic dust clouds is likely to report it (as some fool messing around with fireworks and spoiling his observation, to be sure; but mention it nevertheless).

Amateurs tend to find more comets and near Earth objects a) because there are more of them and b) because they scan all the sky, not just the regions they expect something interesting (yes, like a nuclear missile) to come from.
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Old 3rd October 2011, 09:00 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Earth orbiting monitoring question.

Anyone subscribed to the RSS feed would know immediately when the UFO arrived.
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Old 3rd October 2011, 11:14 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Earth orbiting monitoring question.

Nice argument Chris! You put most of my thoughts much more succinctly than I could manage. Seems to me that, obviously depending on its size and how obvious it made itself (geostationary orbit etc.), we simply wouldn't be looking for it and so probably wouldn't notice it unless it happened to wander across a patch of sky that we were interested in. Which is why I suggested the amateurs because, as Chris says, there are a lot of them and most haven't got something particular that they are researching/controlling/studying, as so are more likely to stumble on it.

When you come to think of it, it's actually a bit unsettling Although of course the real trick would be to arrive unnoticed. Once you are in orbit it would be pretty easy to hide but arrival... now there's the trick
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Old 3rd October 2011, 11:26 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Earth orbiting monitoring question.

If they were coming specifically to Earth, they'd know something about us, and would probably know that the Moon is tidally locked. The obvious place to arrive is on the "dark" side of the moon with the penultimate leg of the journey hidden from the Earth by the Moon.

Now I don't know how much telescopic interest is officially taken of the Moon, but it's probably the only celestial body on which an amateur astronomer could see a lot of detail. So when the ship is on the last leg (Moon to Earth orbit), it may be possible for an amateur to see its emergence before anyone else.

(I admit that there are time-of-day issues with this.)
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