Falling Chinese Space Station Tiangong-1 Will Be Difficult to See Up In The Sky
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:
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.
The crash is imminent: The Chinese experimental space station Tiangong-1 will fall uncontrolled to Earth on Sunday (April 1), give or take a day and a half. Does that mean you're in danger of being struck? In two words? Not really. | @SPACEdotcom https://t.co/cb85UZzp8N pic.twitter.com/ynuxaVQr6q— The SETI Institute (@SETIInstitute) March 29, 2018
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.