The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) research satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA), launched in 2009 to chart the Earth's gravitational field fluctuation, ran out of fuel making it plunge to Earth. Fortunately, the satellite debris that re-entered the Earth's atmosphere did not cause any damage as it fell near Falkland Islands.
Bill Chater, a resident of Falkland Islands in the east of Argentina, spotted the falling GOCE satellite during its fiery dive on Sunday evening, November 10. "We saw it burn up from the Falklands at about 9.20pm last night. Came from the South breaking up into bits," Mr Chater posted on his Twitter account @Cheds23 with a link to the image captured.
"Driving southwards at dusk, it appeared with bright smoke trail and split in 2 before splitting again into more and going on north," Mr Chater further explained in the Huff Post Science report. The European Space Agency has confirmed that Bill Chater's image shows the GOCE satellite plunging to Earth.
"The satellite re-entered the atmosphere at around 7 p.m. EST Monday on a descending orbit pass that extended across Siberia, the western Pacific Ocean, the eastern Indian Ocean and Antarctica," the ESA declared in a statement. The agency further added: "As expected, the satellite disintegrated in the high atmosphere and no damage to property has been reported."
The GOCE satellite's mission is to gather information to be used in understanding the ocean circulation, sea level, ice dynamics and planet Earth's interior. The research satellite was expected to last for only 20 months but the space craft was able to slowly burn its fuel making it continue in orbit for two more years.
The GOCE satellite slowly descended over the last three weeks after it ran out of fuel on October 21. The ESA scientists assured that there is only small chance to get hit with the satellite and the remains are most likely to drop in the ocean.
Heiner Klinkrad, head of the ESA's Space Debris office declared in a statement that "a person is 250,000 more likely to win the jackpot in a lottery than to get hit by a fragment from the falling satellite." However, people are still cautious when it comes to an object falling from space since it can cause damage when it hits the ground.
"Some people liken the falling satellite to an airplane flying without an engine. Many are suggesting that future satellites should be designed to include an engine that can be controlled where it lands during earth re-entry," the Kicker Daily News report reads.
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