'Uncontrolled' 19,000-Pound Chinese Satellite Crash Could Be Devastating

Thursday, 04 January 2018 - 11:28AM
Space
Gadgets
Thursday, 04 January 2018 - 11:28AM
'Uncontrolled' 19,000-Pound Chinese Satellite Crash Could Be Devastating
< >

After freaking out over that hazardous asteroid that slipped by NASA (and nearly impacted the Earth) yesterday, we were reassured by the assumption that it would be the last major thing to potentially come crashing through our atmosphere for a while. Boy, were we wrong. 

A 9.5-ton Chinese space station named Tiangong-1 is currently scheduled to execute an "uncontrolled" descent in the coming months, which might end in a chunk of it hitting a city.

No one knows for sure, because there is almost no way to predict where or when it's going to fall.

According to astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, "Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won't know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it's going to come down."

According to the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, the margin for error when it comes to when this thing is going to hit is two weeks—it could be March, it could be April, it could be February.

As for the location, the potential impact zone consists of about a third of the Earth's surface, including two thinner bands where an impact is much more likely.

These bands cut across the Midwestern US, southern Europe, the Middle East, China, and Argentina.

Tiangong-1 was the first space station built and launched by China, and was designed to be a manned lab.

It was launched in 2011 and saw two manned missions, Shenzhou 9 and 10. The Chinese space program apparently lost control of the satellite in June 2016.

Though much of the station will burn up in the atmosphere upon re-entry, some parts of the station are dense enough to survive the heat, meaning that it's likely that they'll manage to hit the ground...or a house.

"There will be lumps of about 100kg or so, still enough to give you a nasty wallop if it hit you," said McDowell. "It might take out someone's car, there will be a rain of a few pieces of metal, it might go through someone's roof, like if a flap fell off a plane, but it is not widespread damage."

Well, that's reassuring—no "widespread" damage. Just 220-pound pieces of debris falling from the sky, with almost no warning or way to stop them. We advise wearing a bike helmet or carrying a sturdy umbrella.

Science
Science News
Space
Gadgets