For those of you not old enough to remember Skylab and were somewhat disappointed with Mir’s rather “safe” descent into the South Pacific, we’ve got another game of “Where’s the Satellite Debris Going to Land?” ready to play today.
According to NASA scientists, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), which was decommissioned in 2005, is likely to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere sometime either today or tomorrow, though it’s expected to be some time this afternoon. Depending on when and where the six-ton satellite actually hits the atmosphere, the debris could land anywhere between 57°N and 57°S latitude.
Why the uncertainty? In most cases, a satellite’s reentry into the atmosphere is guided using its thrusters to alter its trajectory. The problem is that the UARS doesn’t have any fuel left, so there’s no way to control it.
That doesn’t mean you need to hide in the basement all day. According to NASA, the risk of being hit is actually very small; since we started launching satellites in the late-1950s, there have been no confirmed reports of an injury resulting from re-entering space objects. Nor is there a record of significant property damage resulting from a satellite re-entry.
In the incredibly unlikely event that you find a piece of debris you think may be a piece of UARS, contact local officials. Apparently, some pieces may be hazardous…and they still are considered government property.
Hmm… hazardous materials coming out of the sky at hundreds of miles an hour? Maybe a quick review of what to do wouldn’t hurt after all… ;-)