Falling Chinese Space Station Tiangong-1 Will Be Difficult to See Up In The Sky

Friday, 30 March 2018 - 7:48PM
Space
Earth
Friday, 30 March 2018 - 7:48PM
Falling Chinese Space Station Tiangong-1 Will Be Difficult to See Up In The Sky
< >
CNSA
You would think that as a falling satellite came closer and closer to Earth's atmosphere, we would be able to pinpoint exactly where it's falling. But nobody is sure where the falling Chinese space station Taingong-1 is landing this weekend, only that it is about to land somewhere. 

Current estimates expect it to crash into Earth's surface this Sunday, April 1, at 12:15 with a margin of error of 9 hours. So it could fall at anytime of day, and while some guesses point to it falling down off the coast of New Jersey, it could still land anywhere between the latitude lines of 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south, which covers a large chunk of civilization and then some.

So why is this so difficult to predict? Part of the problem is the bizarre way that Tiangong-1 is moving - it's accelerating toward its predicted final velocity of 16,777 miles per hour (27,000 kilometers per hour) once it re-enters the atmosphere, but it's actually falling very slowly at an extremely shallow angle, and our tough-to-predict atmosphere will complicate things even further.



According to Holder Krag, who runs the European Space Agency's Space Debris Office, it's the drag caused by the upper atmosphere that could truly send the space station in any number of directions. He said the following in a statement to Reuters TV:

Opening quote
"It is very rare to see something like this. It is the upper atmosphere that will create a drag that will eventually bring down the station. That drag is very, very hard to understand and to predict."
Closing quote


Krag went on to stress that there's very little chance of the space station causing damage to anything other than itself, or however much of it survives its fiery re-entry. Since the dawn of space travel, about 13,000 tons of space junk have fallen to the surface, and there's never been a single casualty. 




But it does mean that your chances of seeing Tiangong-1 falling are extremely slim, as there are countless spots it could fall whenever it finally does. Somebody will potentially see it unless it crashes into the middle of an ocean, but there's no way to ensure that'll be you beyond keeping your eyes on the sky.

And if by chance it ends up falling right above you, please do not become the first casualty of falling space junk in history.
Science
Science News
Space
Earth
No