Massive Satellite Falling Back to Earth Tomorrow – We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Umbrella!

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We here at ImpactWeather have always got your back. We keep you updated on the latest weather with our special ImpactWeather insight, plus we let you know about interesting geology, oceanography, astronomy and more. Today, for instance, we bring you something that definitely falls into the interesting category of…well, interesting something, that’s for sure. How would you categorize a school bus re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, breaking up into many pieces — some up to 300lbs in size! – and creating a debris field in an as-yet undetermined location, that may be as much as 500 miles long?

The UARS as viewed from Space Shuttle Discovery in 1991 upon deployment. Image: NASA

One thing is certain: the object falling to Earth is not an actual school bus but rather a school bus-sized, 6.5 ton satellite. Another certainty (or near certainty?) is that the satellite will fall tomorrow or early Saturday morning and NASA estimates there could be as many as 26 pieces of debris that survive re-entry and make it to the surface of the Earth.

Artist's conception of the UARS entering Earth's atmosphere. Image: AGI

This upper atmosphere research satellite (UARS) was lifted into space in 1991 (STS-48) and was deactivated in 2005 with a passivation of its systems. UARS has been gradually falling from orbit since deactivation and is expected (estimated) to reach terra firma sometime tomorrow afternoon. At that time, the soon-to-be former satellite is not expected to be over the United States.

Odds of being struck by this particular craft? 1/3,200. Relatively high odds when compared to other, seemingly more “every day” occurrences like being struck by lightning or being injured by hail. And I’m no space-debris-falling-from-space expert, but I would think the odds of being struck by space junk would be at least as high as winning the Texas lottery (1/15,900,000). Let’s not forget, about 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water where, obviously, the population is lower than on land (though it’s estimated there are 80,000 people living, working and recreating in just the Gulf of Mexico at any given time). Even on solid ground, most populations are concentrated near coastlines leaving vast amounts of interior lands only sparsely inhabited. Even the odds of finding a four leaf clover are almost three times higher. Then again, there are 7 billion people on this planet.

The school bus-sized craft known as UARS - Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite. Image: Wikipedia

Who remembers the re-entry of Skylab? This was in 1979, the year I graduated high school, and I seem to remember it was quite the event — everything from T-shirts to prizes for the recovered debris, to debris being displayed on news programs, talk shows, Facebook and Twitter. Skylab, however, still had vehicle control and NASA engineers were able to direct the craft to an area southeast of Cape Town, South Africa. As it worked out, Skylab took longer to re-enter than estimated and scattered itself across almost 300 miles of western Australia. Interestingly, NASA calculated the odds of being struck by Skylab debris to be 1/152 which, to me, seems ridiculously high — but perhaps their math was considering only the population of South Africa.

For more information on where the UARS is, visit the Updates page from NASA, or track it yourself at Heavens Above or Space Track (registration required).

More odds that you may find interesting:
Odds of being struck by lightning: 1/1,000,000
Odds of getting a hole in one: 1/5,000
Odds of being killed on a single airline flight while onboard one of the top 25 safest airlines: 1/9,200,000
Odds of being injured by hail: 1/5,100,000
Odds of being attacked by a shark: 1/65,000,000
Odds of being killed by a falling meteorite: Infinitesimally small

Great video of the re-entry as envisions by AGI.







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