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Dead satellite ERS-2 reentered Earth's atmosphere between Alaska and Hawaii, agency says

After spending over a decade on a mission in space, a now-defunct satellite returned to Earth on Wednesday, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Alaska and Hawaii.

After tracking the dead satellite for most of the day, the European Space Agency confirmed the satellite had returned to earth by about 2:30 p.m. ET.

ERS-2, one of the ESA's first advanced Earth observing satellites, was set to make a "natural" reentry after staying in space for 16 years.

ERS-2 launched in 1995

ERS-2 launched in 1995 and was initially planned to serve the ESA for three years. However, it remained in operation until 2011, providing data for over 5,000 projects, including tracking Earth's shrinking polar ice, sea levels and atmospheric make-up.

The majority of the 2.5 ton satellite will disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere, according to the agency. Remaining debris is likely to land in a body of water, though the agency does not have a prediction on where it will land.

The Heritage ERS-2 satellite is expected to begin breaking up in the Earth's atmosphere this week.
The Heritage ERS-2 satellite is expected to begin breaking up in the Earth's atmosphere this week.

Graphics: A dead satellite will crash back to Earth this Wednesday. What to know.

Where did the satellite reenter?

In its latest update, the ESA identified a projected reentry point roughly 50 miles over the Pacific Ocean. Upon reentry, the ESA predicts the satellite will begin to break up and the majority of it will burn, with any remaining pieces to be spread out "somewhat randomly" over a span of hundreds of kilometers (1 kilometer = 0.62 miles).

The ESA stresses the point of reentry is not certain due to the difficulty of forecasting the density of air through which the object is passing.

How ERS-2 spent its time in space

The space agency used the satellite to track the Earth's decreasing polar ice, shifting land masses, rising sea levels, warming oceans and changing atmospheric chemistry. Since the satellite's retirement, the agency has been slowly lowering its altitude.

An infographic detailing the reentry of ERS-2
An infographic detailing the reentry of ERS-2

Contributing: James Powel, USA TODAY staff

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Satellite ERS-2 falling towards reentry to Earth Wednesday: ESA