Heads Up: Defunct Satellite to Fall Back to Earth, Unclear WhereThe GOCE probe could hit Earth as soon as this weekend
The GOCE satellite in orbit. (ESA /AOES Medialab)
The European Space Agency's Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer - GOCE - has completed its mission and will soon reenter our atmosphere, according to the agency. The only problem? No one can predict exactly where the satellite will fall.
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The GOCE probe, which ESA officials coined the "Ferrari of space" because of its slick design, has been mapping the Earth's gravitational field since its launch in 2009. In late October, the satellite ran out of fuel and has been making a slow descent - falling at a rate of 2.5 miles per day. It's possible the satellite could reach Earth as soon as Sunday, Nov. 10.
When GOCE makes its uncontrolled reentry, scientists predict that as many as 45 pieces of debris could fall to Earth, some weighing as much as 200 pounds, according to RedPlanet.com.
Experts remain unsure exactly where the satellite will fall, though they will be able to better predict a specific course as the moment of reentry nears. A day before reentry, scientists hope to pin the moment of impact to a four- or five-hour window. RedPlanet.com reports that GOCE mission manager Dr. Rune Floberghagen says between 15 and 20 square yards of the planet's surface could be in danger.
So what are the chances it could hit Earth somewhere near people?
The Defense Dept. monitors some 16,000 objects in orbit-5% are still functioning. With 70% of Earth covered by water and only a quarter of the planet's landmass inhabited, there's about a 7% chance GOCE will crash near people.
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