NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere later today after almost six years of orbiting earth to measure pollution. But now the tables have been turned and huge chunks of metal will be littering Earth. ( I wonder if there’s a satellite that will measure the pollution?)
Although the spacecraft will break into pieces during re-entry, not all of it will burn up in the atmosphere. A more accurate prediction of the location will be possible two hours before the debris is due to land but bookmakers PaddyPower are accepting odds of about 66-to-1 for space debris to land on Ireland.The satellite will not be passing over North America during the time of re-entering and is not likely to fall in Scotland or Argentina.
There are 26 pieces of UARS weighing a total of about 1,100 pounds and some pieces could be the size of a fridge-freezer.
NASA said the odds that a person will be hit by a piece of debris from UARS are about 1 in 3,200. Just in case you see a big, hot chunk of metal falling from the sky the BBC have put together some tips on how to dodge a satellite.
But even if you manage to get through today unscathed by pieces of falling satellite, UARS represents just a fraction of the space debris orbiting our earth. Over 22,000 objects larger than 4 inches are currently tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network. Only about 1,000 of these represent operational spacecraft; the rest are orbital debris. A German satellite with much bigger pieces is due to fall back to earth with a mightier thump later this year.
Apart from space junk, other strange things to fall on land from the heavens above have included insects, frogs and fish. Strong enough winds can create small whirlwinds and mini-tornadoes. When these travel over water small items in their path, such as fish or frogs, may be picked up and carried for up to several miles before being deposited in a hail of fish, frogs or whatever the winds happened to pick up.
A few years ago a hot wind blew over 1000 miles from the Sahara and deposited sand and insects onto our cars.
The chances of being hit are very slim but if you’re worried about being a statistic, real time tracking of UARS is available at Heaven Above.