Russian Mars probe demise imminent

This map shows the expected reentry location as predicted by the Russian Federated Space Agency in the South Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile. The red dots represent amateur satellite watchers. Credit: Screen grab from Simone Corbellini's Visual SAT-flare Tracker 3-D

A satellite observer in Tulsa, Oklahoma saw the Russian Mars probe Phobos-Grunt fly over last night, so it’s still up there. Not for long though. Here are estimates from several agencies and individuals on when the craft is expected to break up and burn as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere today. All times are CST and were updated at 11:26 a.m. January 15. At this point, the U.S. and Canada and much of the rest of the world won’t be under the fall path; it appears the craft could reenter over the South Pacific, South America or southern Europe.

** UPDATE: This just in at 12:45 p.m. Phobos-Grunt crashed down 775 miles west of Wellington Island in the South Pacific at 11:45 a.m. CST today according to Russia’s Novosti news service, where you can read the full story. We can all take a deep breath – any surviving fragments are now sitting on the ocean floor.

* Russian Aerospace Defense Forces – 11:51 a.m.
* The Aerospace Corporation — 11:52 a.m. +/- 20 minutes
* Harold Zimmer (another amateur satellite watcher): 12:02 p.m. +/- 40 minutes
* Russian Federated Space Agency ROSCOSMOS  — 12:08 p.m. +/- 26 minutes
* Ted Molzcan (noted amateur satellite watcher) — 12:11 p.m. +/- 20 minutes
* Ted Molzcan (2nd estimate using a different program) — 1:53 p.m. +/- 40 minutes

Depending on which prediction comes true, the probe could land in a variety of places. Russia has it in the South Pacific, Zimmer places it in the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil, the Aerospace Corporation off the coast of Chile and so on. If you’d like to see all the potential fall spots based on this list and other estimates, please head over to the Visual SAT-flare Tracker 3-D site and click the red-underlined reeentry predictions link. Remember these are predictions. Depending on exactly how it interacts with the atmosphere as it descends, the craft could reenter on the other side of the planet. I’ll have more updates as news arrives.

The moon is in conjunction with Saturn tomorrow morning January 16. The map shows the sky facing south around 6 a.m. local time. Created with Stellarium

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that tomorrow morning at dawn the last quarter moon will stop beside bright Spica in Virgo and the planet Saturn. If you haven’t seen Saturn yet this winter, this is an easy way to get there. Use the map at right to help you step over to the trapezoid of stars that form the little constellation of Corvus the Crow.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

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