NASA Says Satellite Falling To Earth, Doesn't Know Where It's Landing
Author: Allison M. Dickson
published: 2011-09-12 07:00:34
If you look up in the sky sometime in late September or early October and wonder whether the flaming ball you see is a bird or a plane, it's neither. It's just the UARS, or the Upper-Atmosphere Research Satellite, falling back to earth after a 14-year voyage. The only problem is trying to pointpoint where exactly the schoolbus-sized piece of space junk will land. NASA and military officials say the impact point is currently projected to be somewhere between northern Canada and southern South America, and the path of debris will be about 500-miles long.
That really narrows it down.
But not to worry. NASA claims the odds are still likely that the satellite will hit the ocean, and even if it were to re-enter over land, it's highly unlikely to hit people or cause any significant property damage. Although, if you were to be hit by one of the larger of the twenty-six chunks expected to survive re-entry (the largest of which is estimated to be about three-hundred pounds), it's safe to say UARScrewed.
According to SPACE.com, the UARS craft is one of the largest to fall back to earth in quite some time; however the occurrence is not exactly rare. About 400 artifacts take the plunge every year. In fact, the problem of "space junk" has reached critical mass. NASA is currently tracking 22,000 pieces of it that are larger than four-inches, and the problem is only growing as objects in the planet's orbit collide, making many more smaller pieces.
Because conditions in the atmosphere change so rapidly, it's difficult to predict where UARS will fall with any certainty until about two hours before re-entry, but if you're interested in tracking the satellite's whereabouts, NASA has set up a mission page to allow people to do just that. As of right now, they're updating weekly, but as the event nears, they will update it daily, and then hourly.
So if you're living somewhere on that fated stretch of land between northern Canada and southern South America, you might want to keep your eye on the sky. Or maybe ask the Pope if you can borrow his wheels.