In the wake of the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia, a grainy silhouette photo made the rounds. The image of the shuttle showing what appears to be a plume trailing off the left wing was attributed to the
Starfire Optical Range
— a powerful telescope system used by the US Air Force at a research installation in New Mexico. As it turns out, however, the image wasn’t taken with a Starfire telescope at all — it was snapped by
decade old Macintosh.
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The Starfire telescopes are designed to spy on enemy satellites and to look at incoming missiles, according to the Associated Press. The telescopes are very powerful, which led some to question why the image of the shuttle appeared to be so low-resolution: the photo is noticeably pixelated and lacking in detail, not at all consistent with what Starfire’s telescopes are known for.
As it turns out, the system responsible for the image wasn’t a Starfire telescope at all. It was a hobby system cobbled together by Starfire engineers using a commercially available 3.5-inch telescope and an 11 year old Mac.
“The people who work here are geeks,” Starfire technical director Robert Fugate told AP. “This was an opportunity to look at a rapidly moving object and try to take a picture of it.”