back to article Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a 56-year-old satellite burning up in the sky spotted by sharp school kids

NASA’s first Orbiting Geophysical Observatory satellite, launched in 1964, plunged into Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated into pieces over the Pacific Ocean over the weekend. The Center for the Near-Earth Object Studies at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory previously announced it was expecting the OGO-1 satellite …

  1. HildyJ Silver badge

    Raise a pint

    The OGO-1 launched when I was a teenager and after decades I only wish my upcoming demise could be as spectacular as hers.

    Many boffins did great science with the OGO program and now the satellites (and probably some of the boffins) are gone.

    So raise a pint in memory.

    P.S. the still NASA and ElReg posted is from a video which is imbedded in a Forbes article:

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Image source

      That's a video of the same thing in the sky. Our still image was sourced from NASA (see the link at the end of the page). I've now included the vid in our page, anyway.


      1. Christopher Reeve's Horse

        Re: Image source

        Clips like that are a powerful reminder of just how mind boggling fast these things are really going, it never fails to amaze me. Footage from orbit always gives a very serene impression that belies the devastating 17,000+ mph speed.

        Apparently the kinetic energy of the ISS is approx 20% of the energy released by the Hiroshima bomb.

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Image source

          Speed is relative. A nice day in the tropics looks very serene, but in fact everything in sight it hurtling around the Earth's axis at over 1000 MPH. The amount of kinetic energy in every house is thus enormous ...

          1. tfb Silver badge

            Re: Image source

            Even better, the average speed of air molecules is rather over the speed of sound. All of this quiet air around you is actually rushing in all directions slightly faster than sound. (Which always amazes me until I realise that ... that's why the speed of sound is what it is.)

    2. hoola Bronze badge

      Re: Raise a pint

      Buried at air?


      buried in air?

      buried in space?

      cremated in space?

      I read somewhere about someone who fired some cremation ashes up in a rocket but that is just a woosh and wiggle trail.

      Maybe there is a market for a small payload rocket that would go to the outer edges of the atmosphere and explode.

  2. Chris Gray 1

    YouTube URL

    If, like me, Facebook is something you never allow to execute Javascript in your browser, the following YouTube URL is nice:

  3. beep54

    Earth's Magnetic Field

    This is the title of one the the very first computer generated music compositions. Charles Dodge programmed this from a years worth of data as to the changes in the magnetic field. Not everyone's cup of tea, but quite fascinating. Possibly he used data from this very satellite. I bought the album when it first came out (probably about the only way to do that). It was on (of course) the Nonsuch Records label. Interestingly, I think Spotify has it. Check it out. It is not very long and is wondrously weird.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "retired in 1971"

    Fell into atmo in 2020.

    That gives a pretty clear idea of how long our space junk can continue to pose a problem.

    It took that massive piece almost 50 years to get to rentry, imagine how long a simple bolt or screwdriver can last.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: "retired in 1971"

      Normally a small item will decay faster, since the drag tends to be more significant.

      A bolt might be an exception, since it would be exceptionally high density compared with a complete satellite...

      The thing to note is that this was the first to launch, and the last to fall - probably more to do with the orbits than the bird itself.

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: "retired in 1971"

        The Moon has remained in orbit for a tad longer than 50 years ...

        1. Unicornpiss Silver badge

          Re: "retired in 1971"

          "The Moon has remained in orbit for a tad longer than 50 years ..."

          Thankfully it's not in low earth orbit though..

          1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: "retired in 1971"

            What is amazing to think about is that it would be entirely possible to put an object into orbit around the Moon that was just a few meters above the ground. (Or at least a few meters above the highest object in its orbit).

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: "retired in 1971"

              Yes, but not for long - low lunar orbits aren't inherently stable.

    2. Steve Todd Silver badge

      Re: "retired in 1971"

      It depends on the original orbit. Satellites placed in geostationary orbit are going to be up there basically indefinitely. LEO sats placed around 300km are going to burn up in a couple of years without thrusters to keep them up. That number only gives you a clue as to the initial orbit.

      1. Steve Todd Silver badge

        Re: "retired in 1971"

        A quick check shows that the original launch was to an elliptical orbit with apogee of approximately 150,000km and a perigee of 280km. Not that easy to work the numbers out for time to decay.

        Modern missions are expected to include a plan to either expend fuel to burn up, or move to a graveyard orbit out of the way when their useful life is over.

    3. chivo243 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: "retired in 1971"

      Calling Quark! No, not that one...

      This one!

  5. nematoad Silver badge


    "... where it quickly burned up from air compression."

    I may be wrong here but I thought that it was friction with the atmosphere that helped burn up these satellites.

    Oh, and "...safely reentered Earth’s atmosphere, landing in various parts of the planet’s oceans,”

    Was this planned or just plain luck? As far as I know craft of this age had no way of controlling reentry. Let's hope that Musk's millions will be a bit more predictable.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: ?

      Friction occurs as the air passes along the edges of the incoming object. However at the front the compression of air is what causes the massive temperature rise. This results in temperatures far higher than we can achieve in an oxyacetylene torch - and you've never say one of those frictioned its way through the safe door.

    2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: ?

      Even if it was just luck, the odds are pretty good. If there was equal chance of landing anywhere on Earth (which admittedly is not the case with most satellites), then there would be better than a 70% probability of landing in an ocean, and only about a 3% probability that it would land in an area where there is a significant human population.

  6. Duffaboy

    Dam I would have gotten away with it

    if it wan't for those pesky kids

    1. Press any key

      Re: Dam I would have gotten away with it

      One of whom's parents appears to really like cars

  7. Zakspade

    Relatively safe

    While is is likely that most will fail to make it to the surface, the fact is that with so much of the Earth's surface given over to water or uninhabited areas, what DOES make it to the surface would be unlikely to hit anyone.


    However, can the same be said about Amazon delivery drones?

    Just wondering out loud - sorry.

  8. tfb Silver badge


    Well, I've said before that the quality of science reporting here is now very good, so thanks for getting this right! It is indeed compression – specifically adiabatic heating of the air in front of the object which heats it to extremely high temperatures.

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