Satellite GOCE Plunging Towards Earth SoonBy: Lacy Wise - November 7, 2013
Chicken Little finally has a reason to be afraid of things falling from the sky. No, the sky isn’t falling but a European satellite is. GOCE designed to map Earth’s gravitational field will be pulled down sometime in the next few days. Nobody knows where it will crash. The spacecraft is expected to make it to the surface in fragments, almost anywhere across the globe.
As of Wednesday, GOCE (GO-chay) was still 113 miles up. Because of its orbit over the poles, as it rotates around the Earth every 88 minutes, it passes almost all places on Earth.
GOCE has made numerous positive breakthroughs: allowing scientists to use its gravity measurements to calculate global ocean currents maps, provide information on ice sheets, and convection in the Earth’s mantle, and help oil companies decide where to drill.
The possibility of the GOCE debris hitting one specific place over another, scientists remain uncertain until it enters the atmosphere and continues its descent. Though, injuries from debris from space hasn’t been reported, though 100 tons worth of pieces are predicted to pass through the atmosphere this year, it is STILL possible. GOCE is described like an airplane without an engine, gaining speed as it approaches the ground; the debris could endanger about 15 to 20 square yards of the Earth’s surface.
“It’s rather hard to predict where the spacecraft will re-enter and impact,” said Rune Floberghagen, the mission manager for the European Space Agency’s Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE. “Concretely our best engineering prediction is now for a re-entry on Sunday, with a possibility for it slipping into early Monday.”
Image (via) European Space Agency. Copyright ESA/AOES Medialab