One of the coolest space missions of recent time, to be carried out by Russia's Phobos-Grunt, failed last November. Now the unsuccessful probe has crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean.
According to Russian news reports from Ria Novosti, the 13-ton spacecraft fell to Earth at around 12:45pm EST on January 15. It landed in an empty stretch of the Pacific, 776 miles west of the island of Wellington.
We've known that it was going to crash into the planet for days, but it was uncertain exactly where the craft would fall.
Scientific American suggests that the probe most likely broke apart as it re-entered, with most of its components burning up during the descent. Some of the larger components undoubtedly survived, but as yet its not clear how many pieces actually fell to earth.
Russian officials have been keen to stress that the probe's huge reservoir of toxic fuel would have burnt up high over Earth, so presents no risk to the planet. That's been partially confirmed by Nick Johnson, chief scientist of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, who told Scientific American:
"They did acknowledge early on that the [fuel] tanks are made of aluminum. Aluminum rarely survives re-entry, so there's no reason to really doubt them."
Likewise, the tiny amount of radioactive material aboard Phobos-Grunt, about 10 micrograms of Cobalt-57, is almost certainly nothing to worry about. So, that's a relief. [Scientific America and Ria Novosti]