Zombies stalk the night…mindlessly shambling about in their unspeakable quest for the brains of the living. But what about a real zombie, as opposed to the Living Dead, one that wanders the night sky, drifting aimlessly in its orbit above the Earth?
That would be a recently incapacitated satellite known as Galaxy 15, whose computer was, to put it one way, fried, when a comparatively mild solar storm of an otherwise particularly nasty sort known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME, hurled a wave of radiation and particles our way.
This had the effect of f**king up the satellite’s control-system while leaving its payload intact, still emitting signals that were earlier feared to be a threat to any orbital transmissions from equipment it drifted too close to.
A CME is a relatively uncommon event, but potentially hazardous, as they are generally much worse than a mere pissant solar flare, emitting copious amounts of X-rays and protons, the equivalent of a hurricane in contrast to an ordinary flare’s tornado. Any astronauts in orbit between us on the ground and the storm would probably be killed as they absorb many, many times the maximum safe limit for radiation exposure.
We got lucky this time though, for at its worst, such an interplanetary storm could result in severe damage to any technically-advanced country’s infrastructure and economy, particularly by destroying orbital facilities, and in a worst-case scenario, the nation’s power-grids, as the electromagnetic pulse produced when the wavefront slams into our atmosphere releases floods of ions that overload even power-lines and stations on the ground.
Just think of the results it would have if it happened to the continental U.S. during peak energy-use months, like July or January…
But I digress… It turns out that the menace of this eeeeevil little zombie-satellite isn’t as bad as formerly supposed, since its owners, Intelsat, have been successful in efforts to keep the danger of any flybys, with other objects to a minimum, first a safe encounter with satellite Galaxy 13 and coming next week, Galaxy 14.
According to company reps, any danger to other orbital objects is minimal because of the unlikelihood of a direct collision, and other satellites have been directed to avoid the now aimless craft’s communications signals.
Also according to the company, it looks as if at the very best, they could reset the computer and de-zombify Galaxy 15, or at worst, have to write it off as a lost cause, perhaps just letting it lose power completely when its batteries are finally exhausted and perhaps fall out of orbit and burn up upon reentry.