What to Know
- The rogue Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, known as “Heavenly Palace,” is making a quick descend, with an expected crash land by April 2
- Experts note that the public should not be worried because it is extremely unlikely that the school-sized space station will survive reentry
- The European Space Agency says that Tiangong-1’s potential reentry area is between 42.8 degrees North and 42.8 degrees South
The sky may not be falling, but a Chinese space station plummeting towards Earth sure is!
Tiangong-1, known as “Heavenly Palace,” is making a quick descent and is expected to crash land by April 2.
Where exactly is this rogue piece of space junk going to end up? Turns out that a big portion of the United States, including parts of the tri-state, are part of the possible crash zone — that is, in the slim chance the object survives reentry.
This just in ... China 1st space station (Tiangong-1) to reenter March 30 to April 3:https://t.co/Nt2dRxKQRH— EarthSky (@earthskyscience) March 24, 2018
Both Aerospace Corporation and ESA updated their predictions
Green marks possible reentry area. More specific predictions - like "Michigan" - are bogus. pic.twitter.com/IRQ8jcgKn8
The European Space Agency said Tiangong-1’s potential reentry area is between 42.8 degrees North and 42.8 degrees South latitude. The impact zones span the entirety of Africa, most of South America, Central America, the majority of the United States, southern Europe, Australia and large parts of Asia below eastern Russia.
Experts said the public should not be worried because it is extremely unlikely that the out-of-control, school-sized space station will survive reentering the atmosphere, much less that it will crash land into a populated area. Tiangong-1 has been orbiting uncontrolled since at least June 2016.
Though the object is expected to reenter the atmosphere around April 2, the exact day or time of the event is still unknown. According to The Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research organization based in El Segundo, California, that has been modeling the 18,000-pound station's reentry path, it is “very difficult to predict the exact timing of a space object’s reentry.”
Depending on the time and place, as well as the cloud visibility, “the reentry may appear as multiple bright streaks moving across the sky in the same direction,” Aerospace Corporation says, adding that because of the large size of the object, many pieces reentering together is expected, with some surviving and landing on the Earth’s surface.
A reentry analysis conducted by Aerospace, reports that “the risk that an individual will be hit and injured by the reentry of a generic space object is estimated to be less than one in one trillion. To put this into context, the risk that an individual in the U.S. will be struck by lightning is about one in 1.4 million.”
There is only one known case where space debris striked a person. Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was struck in the shoulder by a small piece of space debris while walking in 1996. She was not injured.
Experts do warn, however, that if you do come across any debris, do not touch the object or inhale any of the vapors it may emit because there is the possibility that a substance known as hydrazine may survive reentry. This substance is highly toxic and corrosive.
The Aerospace Corporation says that it is not at all uncommon for space debris to fall to Earth.
Tiangong-1 is the first space station built and launched by China. It was launched launched aboard a Long March 2F/G rocket on Sept. 30, 2011.