An e-mail allegding that an Israeli satellite took pictures of the orbiter Columbia as it exploded during re-entry is a hoax. In reality, the pictures depict a scene from the opening of the movie Armageddon, in which the shuttle is destroyed by a meteor.
Here’s the text of the hoax:
Date Captured: 3/17/2003
INCREDIBLE PHOTOGRAPHY, YET PAINFUL TO VIEW.
Quite hard to believe this; these are amazing!
Attached are pictures of the Shuttle Explosion from an Israeli Satellite in space. They are from the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. These are some incredible pictures (jpg format) of the shuttle explosion provided by the Israeli govt.
And here are the pictures in question:
Right off the bat, we can see something very wrong with this picture — the shuttle isn’t actually in the atmosphere. Columbia was well into re-entry (and thus, the atmosphere), streaking toward a landing in Flordia, when it disintegrated. If the picture were accurate, the shuttle’s leading edges would be glowing red-hot, and (I’m pretty sure on this) it would be shrouded in plasma (plasma is a super-heated gas created by the friction of re-entry … it’s ultimately what destroyed the Columbia.
And let’s not forget that old standby of “where’s the news?”, if such stunning pictures were real, everyone would know about them — we’d have seen them played on the nightly news or all over the news Web sites, and as a space aficionado , I can safely say they haven’t been.
But hell, this is all netpicking. The reason I know this is a hoax — know mind you, not suspect — is that I’ve seen these pictures before. A movie as bad as Armageddon leaves certain lasting mental scars, and I had no trouble recognizing this particular scene. It occurs near the beginning of the movie, just as Earth is learning of the threat posed by an “asteroid the size of Texas”. Part of the asteroid’s vanguard smashes an orbiter, causing the horrific explosions depicted in these pictures. It is in no way real, just like Armageddon was in no way a good movie.