The Tech Herald

NASA unsure of impact site for onrushing UARS satellite

by Steven Mostyn - Sep 23 2011, 16:18

Run away! Image: NASA.

If told your chances of winning the lottery were just 3200-to-1, it’s fair to say you’d think the odds of striking it lucky were quite favourable? Hold that thought.

Moreover, NASA has this week revealed that it expects a huge defunct satellite to hurtle back to Earth from its decaying orbit this Friday or Saturday.

But apparently we shouldn’t worry about the messy end it would cause should one of us be squished by a scorching slab of manmade space detritus, because—you guessed it—the odds of that happening are apparently 3200-to-1.

The satellite in question, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), is around the size of a double-decker bus and currently poses something of a problem for NASA’s stargazing scientists—not least because they don’t know where it’s likely to impact.

“This is one of the largest satellites up there [in orbit]” commented Doug Millard of the London Science Museum in a SKY News report.

“Most satellites when they come down, they are smaller, they burn up and no one notices,” he added. “Because of the size [of UARS], it’s a little more significant.”

Despite the inability to pinpoint the satellite’s re-entry due to its unusual size and movement, NASA insists that most of the platform will disintegrate as it passes through the atmosphere. The rest is expected to crash into the ocean or on an uninhabited part of the planet’s surface.

Offering speculation to the contrary, scientists believe up to 26 pieces of the satellite could survive re-entry, which equates to debris with a combined weight of around 540kg hurtling home at a speed of around 7.5km per second.

We suggest wearing a construction helmet if you plan on popping to the shops or doing a spot of gardening in the next 24 hours.

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