An amatuer astronomeur in CA says he captured images showing a "glowing purple rope of light" striking the Columbia seven minutes before it broke apart, reports the SF Chronicle. (Link via Ken Layne.) No word yet from NASA, which is examining the photos, on what it might mean (or whether it's a big fat hoax, camera fluke, etc).
Fascinating stuff, but I'm also linking it because of a funny contradiction. The writer notes that "NASA's zeal to examine the photo demonstrates the lengths at which the agency is going to tap the resources of ordinary Americans in solving the puzzle," but then goes on to mention that the photographer "had not had any success in reaching NASA through its published telephone hot lines." He eventually got in touch with Nasa through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend kind of thing after the "ordinary American" method failed him.
Sucker punches aside, if the guy's photos do yield any new information, it says something pretty awesome about the here and now that a toolshed astronomer could give the National Space Administration a major lead.