Go, But Watch Out for GOCE

goce-350Lots happening this weekend. Plenty of nice Veterans Day activities.

As long as you don’t get clobbered by GOCE. (Pronounced “go-chay.”)

It’s not some chupacabra or some mythical demon Limbaugh says is coming to devour you and your freedom to die without access to a doctor. This one is real. GOCE is a hefty monster, at more than 2400 pounds, 17 feet long, and over 3 feet in diameter.

It is coming for us — more accurately, back to us. And it will hit somewhere — probably Sunday or Monday — as it unceremoniously falls out of its 167-mile-high orbit and careens in flaming glory through the atmosphere, stopping when it hits the ground — or the water — at a very high speed.

Last week’s OC meteor was a warm-up.

Launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2009, GOCE was not intended as an experiment to see what took out the dinosaurs.

A 350-million-Euro project, GOCE has been up there studying the Earth’s gravitational field and related ocean currents. Which is rather ironic, since “Gravity,” as in the movie, is the operative factor here. And everybody hopes it hits an ocean instead of their house. (GOCE’s full name is Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer — rather unwieldy, like the lovely Latina your cousin married whose old-school parents named her Maria Conchita Sophia Dulcinea Savannah Segunda.)

Like a high school kid on a Saturday night date, GOCE ran out of gas. As hideously expensive as gas is at the corner mini-mart, imagine stopping at a station in orbit to tank-up and grab a high-fructose-laden / salt-saturated snack.

Except there aren’t any gas stations in orbit — diesel either — or any other propellant. Everything up there is in its own orbit so it won’t smack into your TV shopping channel satellite or the International Space Station or Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

larry-wines-formalNow, as long as GOCE doesn’t smack into any of us when it returns to Earth like that Acme Safe falling on Wile E. Coyote as the Road Runner watches.

We really need to coordinate these things. If GOCE could just hit Typhoon Haiyan, we could consolidate our concerns. And a viral video that would beat the cat-playing-piano on YouTube.

Larry Wines

Saturday, 9 November 2013

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