As companies such as SpaceX attempt to send humans to Mars and NASA is making plans to colonize the moon, the European Space Agency still has its sights set on Earth. One of its most productive recent missions – the Gravity Field and Steady-Sate Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) – has just returned from a four-year sojourn around Earth.
In all, the GOCE satellite made more than 27,000 orbits to measure “tiny variations in the gravitational field that correspond to uneven distributions of mass in Earth’s oceans, continents, and deep interior,” Space Daily reported.
More than 800 million observations and 75,000 paramaters went into the final model presented by the Technische Universitat Munchen for the GOCE Gravity Consortium, which held the 5th International GOCE User Workshop in Paris this week.
The scientific findings can be applied to a range of scientific study, from geology and ocean circulation to geophysics and civil engineering, according to Space Daily.
The GOCE mission, which began in March 2009 and culminated with re-entry in November 2013, is significant because it enables scientists to study the Earth’s ocean currents, monitor the effect of melting ice sheets on the sea level and study plate tectonics.
The latest batch of data from the GOCE satellite was the most detailed, as the probe was lowered from 255 to 225 kilometers, “increasing the sensitivity of gravity measurements to reveal even more detailed structures of the gravity field,” Space Daily reported.
That made it “the lowest-orbiting scientific spacecraft above the Earth,” according to Tech Times.
“GOCE has really made a breakthrough for the estimation of ocean currents,” Marie-Helene Rio from the Italian National Research Council’s Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate told BBC.