European Satellite Falling Back To Earth
The European Space Agency's GOCE satellite is expected to soon enter Earth's atmosphere, but experts aren't sure when or where.By Christian Bryant | November 8, 2013
A 2,000-pound European satellite ran out of fuel and is falling back to Earth, but nobody knows where or when it'll actually re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. I mean, it could hit here.
The European Space Agency launched the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE, in 2009 to map Earth's gravitational field. Ironically enough, it's Earth gravity that's pulling it back down.
The New York Times reports this so-called "uncontrolled entry" will break apart into 25-45 pieces with the largest possibly weighing 200 pounds. Since GOCE ran out of propellant last month, it has fallen 2.5 miles a day.
Experts estimate the fragments from GOCE will most likely re-enter the atmosphere Sunday or Monday, with roughly 20 percent making it to the ground.
The science behind predicting when and where it'll show up is imprecise, but the head of the ESA's debris office said you're 250,000 times more likely to hit the German lottery than to get hit by fragment. (Via National Geographic)
But there is still a small chance it can happen. Just ask Lottie Williams. The Tulsa, Okla., resident had a brief encounter with a soda-can-sized piece of space junk back in 1997. Williams wasn't hurt and said when it hit her, it felt like someone tapping on her shoulder. (Via Fox News)
Although GOCE's time is coming to a suspenseful end, it's been a pretty effective piece of equipment.
Nicknamed the "Ferrari of space" because of its sleek design, Space.com reports GOCE "mapped the globe's ocean currents and lumpy gravitational field in unprecedented detail. The spacecraft also produced the first high-resolution map of the boundary between Earth's crust and mantle."
What's even more impressive is the satellite was supposed to run out of fuel in 2011, but consumption was lower than expected. The ESA then lowered its orbit to collect more information about small oceans. (Via Los Angeles Times)
For those of you not willing to take any chances on touchdown guesstimations from space experts, you can track GOCE's location at n2yo.com.