European satellite crashing back to Earth this weekend, no one knows where
Daniel Bitonti, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, November 8, 2013 12:56PM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 8, 2013 4:15PM EST
A European satellite is expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere during the night between Sunday and Monday, but scientists aren't sure exactly where it will touch down.
GOCE, short for Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, has been in space since 2009, measuring Earth’s gravitational fields.
"It was being held up there by this little engine, just a little electric engine that's pumping out ions," George Tyc, the chief technology officer at UrtheCast, told CTV’s St. John Alexander. UrtheCast is currently developing an HD video platform that will publicly stream images of Earth from the International Space Station.
An Friday morning update from the European Space Agency, predicts GOCE will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning, and break up at altitude of approximately 80 km. But where exactly is anyone’s call.
Most of the satellite will break up into small pieces, but the European Space Agency says some small parts could reach earth.
"Most of these fragments will completely burn up," a statement on the ESA blog says. "A small fraction of the initial spacecraft mass – about 20 per cent or 200kg – is expected to reach ground, distributed across dozens of fragments, spread over a sizable re-entry ground swath."
And while most of those parts will likely end up in the ocean, there is still a chance some could crash on land – but a really small chance.
"Statistically speaking, it is 250,000 times more probable to win the jackpot in the German Lotto than to get hit by a GOCE fragment," the ESA blog says. "In 56 years of space flight, no man-made space objects that have re-entered into Earth’s atmosphere have ever caused injury to humans."
To put things into perspective, the Russian meteor that lit up the sky in February was 12,000 times bigger than GOCE. At the very least, the satellite’s return to Earth could be a cool sight for sky watchers.
"You might be able to see it," Tyc said. "You'll see a very big fireball coming down and it will look very cool."