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GOCE: The European space satellite will map Earth's gravitational field

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A new European Space Agency satellite will be launching this year, possibly as soon as February. Its job will be to map out the planet's gravitational field in extreme detail. The Gravity Field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) will be launched for the purpose of gathering data to be used in oceanography, climate change, and solid Earth physics. GOCE is the first Core Earth Explorer satellite to be developed as part of ESA's Living Planet Programme.

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Whats the mission behind it?

The satellite will be capable of measuring the Earth's gravity from location to location as it circles the globe. This effort will provide a complete, uniform global picture with detail and accuracy never before possible. This new sampling will give scientists and researchers more insight into the circulation of the ocean, how it affects climate change and even hints as to the interior structures of the Earth.

The basic theory is this: The strength of Earth's gravity varies by tiny amounts at different locations around the globe based on its makeup. As the GOCE orbits the Earth at 155 miles above the surface, over its 20 month mission it will compile a full 3-D map of every point in orbit.

Scientists report they'll even be able to use the satellite's compiled data to accurately measure heights for various features around the globe - such as Mount Everest and Mount St. Helens, both of which currently have varying height estimates which span a fairly wide range.

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If successful, the GOCE will deliver an improved accuracy of the Earth, forever changing the way it is perceived by man and science.

See an August, 2006 GOCE article on ESA's website, along with the other Core Earth Explorer satellites, including ADM-Aeolus scheduled for launch in 2010 (to measure wind using lidar) and EarthCARE due for launch in 2013, along with nine additional satellites.

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