Image of the Day: The fiery death of GOCE

Credit: Bill Chater

GOCE stands (stood, rather) for Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer, a satellite launched by the European Space Agency back in 2009. The most interesting thing about GOCE is that it was designed to orbit very, very low: 160 miles up in the thermosphere, which is technically still in the atmosphere. Since GOCE would have to deal with atmospheric drag, it was streamlined and had actual tail fins on the back to keep it pointed in the right direction, sort of like the sleek spaceships that we imagine but that don't make sense in real life.

GOCE's mission was to map gravity field anomalies, and it did a fine job of that, but it ran out of propellant in October, and made an "uncontrolled re-entry" (aka it broke up in the atmosphere and crashed) over the Falkland Islands on November 10. The entire population of the Falklands is just a few thousand people, but one of them managed to take this picture (the first pic, not the pic of the satellite) and post it to Twitter.

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ESA, via Twitter and Slate

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