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No. 25: Jan-Feb 1983

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Lageos Falls Too Fast

In May of 1976, NASA launched a geodetic satellite into an orbit over the poles about 3700 miles out. The satellite, called Lageos, is covered with laser reflectors so that it can be tracked with high precision. At its altitude of 3700 miles, the earth's atmosphere is supposed to be so thin that friction will bring the satellite only 1/250th of an inch closer to the earth each day. The trouble is that Lageos actually falls at ten times this rate. In 1979 it descended 60% faster than it does now. Lageos will stay in orbit several hundred thou-sand years, but space scientists are understandably concerned about their theories about the upper atmosphere. Many suggestions have been made to explain this anomaly. Some say the atmosphere is thicker than expected; others prefer to think there is more helium than predicted; but the "plasma drag" effect seems to fit the situation the best. Lageos may, in fact, be electrically charged and interacting with the surrounding cloud of electrically charged particles and is ever so slightly braked by the electrical forces.

(Maran, Stephen P.; "Fall from Space," Natural History, 91:74, December 1982.)

From Science Frontiers #25, JAN-FEB 1983. 1983-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987