Science: Data from the Sputniks

While Sputniks I and II still orbit overhead, scientists around the world are racing through mountains of data to discover how information on the movements of the Russians' artificial moons has altered standard theories of the earth and its atmosphere. Last week scientists at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge suggested a drastic revision of an accepted notion of the earth's upper atmosphere: at about 137 miles altitude, the atmosphere may be almost nine times as dense as scientists once believed.

The Smithsonian scientists calculated the density of the upper atmosphere by studying the gradually shrinking orbit of Sputnik I. Under the...

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