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Astronomers track US spy satellites using Trump’s tweet

In a tweet posted a few days ago, the United States (US) president, Donald Trump, included a smartphone picture of Iran’s Semnan Launch Site One, a location believed to be the site where a rocket failure took place.

Astronomers
Smartphone picture of Iran’s Semnan Launch Site One. Credit: Trump/Twitter

Astronomy experts diligently examined the image to uncover lots of hidden details. By analysing the angle at which the image was taken, they apparently figured out which spy satellite took it and when.

Dutch astronomer and asteroid tracker Marco Langbroek suggests the image could’ve been taken by USA 224, an extremely secretive recon satellite which cost around two billion dollars — a day before Trump tweeted the image.

The suspected KH-11-type optical imaging satellite launched in 2011, but has been visible to amateur astronomers and trackers since then, according to Futurism.

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“They’re super bright in the sky and are easy to find,” Michael Thompson, a graduate student in astrodynamics at Purdue University, told NPR.

But the extremely high resolution of the image has some astronomers puzzled. Calculations put the resolution at an estimated 10 centimeters per pixel, while the newest commercial satellites take images at only 30, according to Quartz.

“The level of detail in the image is incredible,” wrote Langbroek in a blog post. “These are high-resolution optical satellites that resemble the Hubble Space Telescope, but look down to Earth instead of to the heavens.”

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