If you see a large glowing object plummeting from the sky late Saturday or early Sunday, duck.
A defunct European satellite called ROSAT is headed straight for Earth this weekend—and chances are even higher that a piece of space debris could hit someone than the odds placed on a NASA satellite that fell from orbit last month.
The German Aerospace Center, which led the development and construction of ROSAT, estimates that the chance of anyone being harmed by debris from the satellite is 1 in 2,000. For NASA’s UARS, the injury risk was roughly a third lower, at 1 in 3,200.
ROSAT is currently estimated to make an uncontrolled reentry during the early morning hours on Sunday, Greenwich Mean Time, said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency’s space debris office. But Klinkrad cautions that the satellite could enter Earth’s atmosphere up to 24 hours earlier or later than the estimated time…
Unfortunately, neither Klinkrad nor anyone else can say exactly where on Earth ROSAT is headed.
Debris could come down anywhere between 53 degrees north latitude and 53 degrees south latitude, an area that includes most of Earth’s land mass…That could be a worry, because the satellite’s 1.5-ton mirror is likely to survive the superheated trip through the atmosphere all the way to the ground, where it could make a major dent in whatever it strikes…
If bits of the satellite do land in a populated area, “they will be extremely hot,” added the German Aerospace Center’s Roland Gräve. “This is why we recommend not touching any satellite parts” that do make it to the ground.
And any ROSAT debris, no matter where it’s found, belongs to the German government, he said.
There are people like Jonathan McDowell from the Center for Astrophysics who are planning reentry parties. It’s tough keeping it on a schedule. He has a blanket email ready to go when he has concrete location numbers – just fill in the blanks and send it off into the Web.
We all can go “whoopee” while it crashes and burns.