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For All Nails #31: Star of Wonder, Star of Light

Letter to _The Times_ (London)
19 December 1972


Our observatory has received a number of enquiries about a
mysterious astronomical object observed crossing the evening
sky from south to north.  It can be observed in Britain, for
example, passing through Ursa Minor about 9:32 p.m. on Christmas
Eve, visible overall from about 9:27 to 9:34 [1].

It is clear that this object is in continuous free fall around
the earth, orbiting in the same manner as our moon.  Contrary
to speculation in the less respectable press, however, it is 
clearly terrestrial in origin.  In fact, extensive observations
by astronomers around the world have established the following:

1) This is not the first or second artificial planetoid, but in
   fact the twenty-sixth to be placed in orbit.  Most have since
   perished in the atmosphere, slowed by the influence of drag, 
   but seven are still under observation.

2) The vast majority, including Object 1 in May 1970 and the 
   current Object 26, appear to have been sent into outer space 
   from a location somewhere in the Pacific.  Beginning in July 
   1971, a total of five have been launched from at least one 
   and possibly two sites in the Arctic, with some definitely 
   from the Eastern hemisphere [2].

3) Object 26 is not only larger than previous planetoids but is
   flying further away from the earth, at an average height of about 
   130 nautical miles.  This implies that a considerably more 
   powerful rocket was used to put in into flight.

The implications of artificial planetoids should be obvious.  If
large enough to carry a man (as Object 26 may be), he could observe
any location on the earth without hindrance.  A weapons platform in
outer space could be used to launch an irresistable attack.  More
optimistically, the scientific opportunities from human presence in
outer space are incalculable.

We have of course made our observations available in detail to the
Defence Ministries of both Britain and the CNA.  (Prof. Belanger of
Champlain University there was essential in calculating orbital elements
and helping to estimate the launch sites.)  Naturally our governments'
activities in this area must to some extent be shrouded in secrecy.
But now that the evidence of space activity is available to anyone
with eyes to see, we urge these governments to address this issue in public,
as is appropriate to the free governments of two free peoples.

Sir Huw Davies
Regius Professor of Astronomy
University of Aberystwyth
Aberystwyth, Wales


[1] With an undergrad physics degree I ought to be able to calculate
    how long an LEO satellite should take to cross the sky, but I haven't.
    Six minutes [was] my guess based on watching them myself.  Anyone got the
    right figure?  (Added after original posting:  If the observer is at
    (1,0), he can observe everything right of the line x=1.  If the 
    satellite is in a circle of radius 1.03, the length of the observable
    arc is twice the inverse cosine of 0.97, or about half a radian.  Since
    the entire orbit is about 90 minutes, dividing by 4*pi gives about seven
    minutes for the traversal.)

[2] Apparently the USM launch observed in #5, in Sept 1969, either was
    suborbital or escaped the notice of these astronomers.  They have also
    not seen anything not in polar orbit, while the CNA may be planning to 
    launch from Florida into equatorial orbit as in OTL (#12).

Dave MB