An “out-of-control” Chinese space station, known as Tiangong-1, is plummeting down to Earth and it’s predicted the school bus-sized will enter the atmosphere sometime in the next 24 hours.
Fortunately, the space lab will likely “burn up upon re-entry, which is expected to happen about 37 miles above ground, so it only poses a small risk to people and property,” Fox News reported. But that doesn’t mean there is no risk.
Aerospace Corp. predicted the space station crash would occur at around 8:10 p.m. EDT on Easter Sunday.
Andrew Abraham, a senior member of Aerospace’s technical staff, told Space.com it’s clear that Tiangong-1 was tumbling recently, “so the question is it still tumbling, and is the tumbling getting faster or slower.” On second thought, Space.com is much more qualified to explain the implications here:
Although Abraham said this is speculation on the part of Aerospace, he said it is possible Tiangong-1 is now encountering more of Earth’s atmosphere as it falls towards the surface of the planet. If that’s the case, the atmosphere might be influencing the attitude or orientation of Tiangong-1’s tumble. He compared the situation to an arrow moving through the air, or a wind vane undulating in the wind. “They align themselves to the direction of travel,” he said. “There’s a bit higher drag in the back, and the center of mass is towards the front.”
Aerospace uses publicly available data from the United States Air Force in making its Tiangong-1 predictions. The military has a network of radar and optical telescopes, and publishes data at spacetrack.org. Abraham said after Tiangong-1 enters Earth’s atmosphere, there may be a delay of a few hours to confirm it. That’s because Aerospace will wait for information from multiple sensors, in the case that Tiangong-1-‘s descent isn’t observed.
The potential dangers posed by falling debris will be closely monitored by officials over the next 24 hours.
“The problem here is less the probability for an aircraft to be directly hit by space debris (which is low, but not zero), but the difficulty to predict precisely the area of possible impacts and their exact time of occurrence, because of uncertainties resulting from variations of solar activity,” an official with the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety told Fox News.
Most of the United States is outside of the predicted landfall area, but nothing is certain at this point. Watch more below:
Featured image via European Space Agency