Contact: Ellen Sterner
SMU News & Media Relations
(214) 768-7650

Feb. 14, 2003

INFRASOUND DATA ENABLES SMU RESEARCHERS TO PINPOINT TIME AND LOCATION OF AN EXPLOSIVE EVENT ON THE SPACE SHUTTLE

DALLAS (SMU) -- An experimental research program conducted by geophysicists at Southern Methodist University captured data that pinpoints a location where an explosive event occurred on the space shuttle Columbia the morning of Feb. 1.

Since 1997, SMU geophysicists have been monitoring infrasound in the atmosphere from a station in Lajitas, Texas. Infrasound refers to sounds that are too low to hear. The infrasound monitoring capability was added to an existing station that SMU researchers use to detect seismic waves caused by earthquakes and nuclear explosions, and is part of a worldwide monitoring network.

On Feb. 1 atmospheric conditions over Texas were perfect for capturing infrasound recordings. The skies were clear, the wind was low and the pressure was high.

"We happened to be in the right place on a good day," said Eugene Herrin, professor of geological sciences at SMU.

Herrin's analysis of data captured by the SMU monitoring station Feb. 1 indicates that an explosion occurred over the Texas panhandle between Lubbock and Amarillo. SMU researchers have given NASA an estimate of the time and location of the explosion as well as an estimate of the energy released by what generated the sound waves.

"It will be up to NASA to determine the cause of the explosive event," Herrin said.

Data captured by the SMU researchers may be found online at http://www.geology.smu.edu/~dpa-www/columbia


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