Falling Russian Satellite Appears To Be Moving Backwards
Phobos-Grunt, a Russian Mars probe stuck in Earth orbit since November, is sinking back into the atmosphere. Best estimates suggest re-entry will occur on Jan. 15th or 16th. Meanwhile, citizen scientists can see the probe moving through the night sky sometimes shining as brightly as a first-magnitude star.
“It appears that the satellite is moving backwards with its solar panels deployed but not receiving the sunlight,” notes Legault. “This may explain why Phobos-Grunt had no energy to communicate with Earth.” An 80-second video shows the probe soaring almost directly above Legault’s observing site on the Plateau de Calern. “At the scale of the video the satellite would cross your screen in about 1/30s,” he says.
While a telescope is required to see the outlines of the spacecraft, the human eye alone is sufficient to see Phobos-Grunt as a speck of light in the night sky. On high passes, it glows almost as brightly as a first magnitude star