June 25, 2022

Scientists Say the Sun Is Acting Up and Causing Satellites to Fall Back to Earth

Space weather is weird.

Down, Down Down

Most folks probably don’t think of satellites as capable of sinking, but according to the European Space Agency they can and do.

Space news site Space.com reported Thursday that ESA scientists had to raise the Swarm constellation satellites, which measure Earth’s magnetic field, because they were sinking in chaotic space weather.

“In the last five, six years, the satellites were sinking about two and a half kilometers [1.5 miles] a year,” Swarm mission managerAnja Stromme, ESA’s told Space.com. “But since December last year, they have been virtually diving. The sink rate between December and April has been 20 kilometers [12 miles] per year.”

Although satellites always face a downward drag while in orbit, space weather has been making the sink worse, the ESA said. That’s why the International Space Station makes frequent maneuvers to keep itself in orbit and out of the worst of the drag.

Heating Up

Space.com says that since last fall, the Sun has been acting pretty weird in general.

A growing sun spot has doubled in size and is pointed directly at the Earth, although scientists say we shouldn’t be concerned (but then, how could you not be?) That phenomenon may not be connected with sinking satellites, but it does highlight how conditions in space are ever-changing.

We’ll keep our eyes out for more space weather updates, because it sure does seem like there’s at least some stormy weather going on up there.

More on off-world news: NASA Spots Location Where Derelict Rocket Smashed Into the Moon

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