An asteroid is heading toward our planet, but that’s not the most immediate threat. A space station is also coming our way, and it’s set to hit this weekend.
China’s first space station prototype, the Tiangong-1, has been gradually falling toward the Earth. While most of the 18,740-pound space lab will burn up in the atmosphere, experts say that up to 40% of it will crash somewhere on the planet. That’s right, 40%! Even more alarming, they have no idea where exactly the pieces will land.
Many scientists and researchers who are tracking the Tiganong-1’s descent say that predicting where the debris will end up is near impossible. Even if they make a calculation within 24 hours, there are a number of factors that can change everything. William Ailor, a researcher at the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies at the Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo said that pieces of it could end up thousands of miles off course. But he also said that there’s very little chance it could actually hit someone.
The Odds Of Getting Hit By Space Debris
We live on a planet that is 70% water. That makes the odds of something striking populated land pretty slim. Humans have only been putting man-made objects into space for about sixty years. In that time, only one person has ever been said to be hit by something coming back down. Her name was Lottie Williams, and she was struck in the shoulder by a piece of metal from a Delta II rocket back in January of 1997. The Tulsa, Oklahoma woman survived.
The most famous man-made object to rain down on the Earth was called Skylab. That was the United States’ first space station. It orbited our planet from 1973 to 1979. An unusual amount of drag, caused partly by an increase in solar activity, was to blame for its decaying orbit. Because of that, NASA was forced to bring it down early. Skylab eventually broke up over the Indian Ocean and western Australia.
What About Dat As(teroid)?
It’s true, NASA scientists have been tracking a giant asteroid that may indeed hit our home planet. However, it’s not scheduled to (possibly) harm us until the year 2135. That’s over a hundred years from now. Dubbed Bennu, the Empire-State-Building-sized space rock is said to have a 1 in 2700 chance of impacting the Earth. Not great odds, but still … odds. So, NASA has come up with a plan to redirect Bennu should it get too close. That plan is titled Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response—or HAMMER for short—and it calls for the space agency to launch a 9-ton “bulk impactor” to push Bennu out of the way. If that sounds to you like something out of a Hollywood movie, you’re not crazy. Anyone remember Michael Bay’s Armageddon?
It’s also important to note that an asteroid did hit the Earth once in our semi-recent history. Back in 1908, one more powerful than 180 Hiroshima atomic bombs impacted near Siberia’s Podkamennaya Tunguska River. It devastated the region—flattening some 80 million trees and killing an untold number of living creatures. Thankfully, that was in a large, unpopulated area.
The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!
If all of this information has you feeling like Chicken Little, don’t fret. Experts say that objects of significant size break through our atmosphere almost every day, and usually end up in the ocean or an uninhabited area. So, just keep calm, and carry on.