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European Satellite’s Fall from Orbit Was Harmless, Proving We Can Do Math

We do so love being right.


To the Internet’s credit, no one seemed all that concerned about the European Space Agency’s falling satellite over the weekend, despite Fox News running a headline that it might land in your backyard and telling you who to sue. It burned up harmlessly in the atmosphere as expected—the satellite, not Fox News. Sorry.

Even if some pieces of the satellite had survived reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, we calculated that the likelihood that it would land in any specific 13 square meter (the estimate spread of the debris) location was about one in nine trillion.

You don’t need to do a bunch of math to realize how silly it was to worry it would hit anything, though. Just know that the Earth’s surface is 71% ocean, so there’s only a 29% chance that anything falling from space will hit land at all, and there’s an even smaller chance that it will land near people.

The GOCE (that’s Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer) ran out of fuel in October after orbiting since 2009 to map the gravitational field of the Earth. These gravitational measurements will give us crucial information for studying ocean circulation and climate as well as magma distribution and seismic events.

You can get more information about GOCE’s mission and see images of its data maps and other sciencey stuff on the European Space Agency website.

(via Time, image via Ars Electronica)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.