On its final fumes, defunct satellite slowly falling from orbit to Earth


Animation of GOCE satellite courtesy of EESA

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SPACE, SOLAR SYSTEM – It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s almost 50 pieces of broken satellite? That’s the show that someplace on planet Earth is set for when the weekend comes to a close. FOX News reports that the European GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite ran out of gas in October and is steadily plunging from the heavens.

The satellite will break into pieces as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere between Sunday night and Monday afternoon. The New York Times reports that about 25-45 pieces will make it to the surface. The pieces will likely fall into the ocean but experts say they cannot precisely determine the final destination. For interested or concerned parties, satellite-tracking Web site N2YO.com has real-time tracking of its final days of orbit.

The European Space Agency’s satellite has been in orbit since March of 2009 and has been measuring Earth’s gravity field at only 161 miles above the planet. The ESA said at times the satellite has experienced drag from the outer edges of the atmosphere. FOX News reports it had fallen to an altitude of 105 miles above Earth and is expected to drop another five miles before the day is over.

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