Satellite Falling to Earth: No Word on Location Yet

Lacy LangleyScience

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Nobody knows where the fragments of the 2,000-pound European satellite will hit or when they will, but what we do know, is that they will begin re-entry into the atmosphere on Sunday or Monday, according to Rune Floberghagen, mission manager for the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Explorer, better known as GOCE.

“Quite literally GOCE is now nearly flying like an airplane without an engine," Floberghagen said,"with the upper layer of the atmosphere providing aerodynamic stabilization."

The European Space Agency said on its website that the pieces will most likely fall in unpopulated areas or open water, but will be narrowed down closer to re-entry.

So what is this satellite? According to CNN, GOCE was launched in 2009 to map variations in the Earth's gravity in 3D.

It was also used to provide ocean circulation patterns and make various other measurements. GOCE became the first seismometer in orbit on March of 2011. That's when it detected sound waves from the earthquake that struck Japan.

The satellite ran out of fuel on October 21st, which was much later than expected, and due to the lack of fuel, began to slowly fall. On November 4th, the ESA's website stated that rate of descent will steadily increase in the coming days.

Should you, as a citizen on the ground, be worried that satellites will suddenly start dropping from the sky? Nope. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the satellite has completed its mission, has run out of fuel like it was supposed to, and is coming to its "natural end".

All the money spent on GOCE was worth it, though. "We have obtained the most accurate gravity data ever available to scientists. This alone proves that GOCE was worth the effort – and new scientific results are emerging constantly,” said Volker Liebig, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs.

Image via ESA

Lacy Langley

Lacy is a writer from Texas. She likes spending time in the home office, homeschooling her kids, playing the didgeridoo, caring for her chickens (Thelma and Louise), Rolos, Christmas, and Labyrinth.