The space shuttle Columbia’s troubles began as it dropped like a meteor from orbit into a mysterious and poorly understood atmospheric region that scientists have dubbed the ”ignorosphere.”

Invisible clouds, strange electrical flashes called red sprites and blue lightning bolts that strike upward from the tops of clouds inhabit the thin air. This is the place where falling stars are made.

The ignorosphere earns its nickname from the fact that you can’t get there from here without a rocket. It is too high for weather balloons and too low for satellites to dip down to gather information.