Remember the X-37B, the U.S. military's super-secret unmanned space shuttle replacement that no one knows anything about? Bad news, chickenhawks—it's most likely just a nonlethal high-flyin' spy plane. Weird news? Amateur astronomers totally know where it is right now.
It's here: Roughly anywhere between 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south latitude at an altitude of about 255 miles (410km), said Ted Molczan, an amateur sky watching aficionado from Toronto, in an interview with the New York Times. It circles the planet with a brisk 90-minute orbit.
What countries fall within that range, you ask? Why, none other that troublemakers Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and even North Korea. But there won't be any bombs over Baghdad from this thing, at least not directly.
You see, while this craft is certainly all military, the behaviour this bird exudes is pure reconnaissance. Every four days, for example, the X-37B passes over the same region of earth, which Molczan says is exactly what U.S. imaging reconnaissance satellites have been known to do. The military has also vehemently denied any weaponisation of the project on countless occasions, so there's that too, if you're one to believe everything the military says at face value.
Still, it could be a feint, right? The rumoured death ray that I just made up just now could be deployed later, during the craft's long-rumored nine-month stay in orbit (thanks to solar panels). We'll be watching!
Cool X-37B fact: The upper stage of the Ares rocket that blasted this shuttle into space last month was sent into a secret orbit around the sun! Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell said this is the first time in U.S. space history that this kind of secret orbit had occurred. [New York Times]