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TODAY   |  November 10, 2013

Where will it land? Satellite plunging toward Earth

A European satellite that’s been mapping the Earth’s gravitational field since 2009 is coming back home, but scientists aren’t sure where it will land. TODAY’s Craig Melvin reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> when you head outside, keep an eye skyward because there's a chance, slight chance that a big chunk of a 2400-pound satellite could be headed straight for you. craig, tell us about that.

>> this satellite has been in orbit since 20 09d, but now it's out of fuel and it's spiraling toward the earth. scientists say it's going to break apart. the problem is no one seems to know when or where that's going to happen. it's still orbiting the earth this morning. but a one-ton european satellite named goce is falling out of orbit and getting set to crash land somewhere here on this big planet .

>> almost every satellite that's placed into a low orbit, that is to say, below 200 miles, is going to come back, and most of them burn up harmlessly.

>> experts say about 25 to 45 fragments, the largest weighing around 200 pounds are expected to reach the earth's surface. but unlike this scene from the movie "gravity," the likelihood of being hit by a fragment of goce is, well, unlikely.

>> most of the earth is covered with water. a lot of the land mass is very sparsely inhabited, so the odds are quite low.

>> today more than 2,500 satellites, working and dead are orbiting earth. 1979 's sky lab , the most well known satellite to break from orbit broke apart across northern australia . no injuries were reported. this weekend, take a look up. who knows? lightning could strike? the odds of that one in 3,000, much more likely than being hit by a piece of a satellite.

>> the european space agency expects the satellite will crash to earth tonight or early tomorrow. and if you two do happen to see it, it's going to look like a huge fireball streaking across the sky. keep an eye out.

>> let's hope it's not the last thing we see. what's that? the last words, what was that?