No one knows where a falling Chinese space lab will crash
A Chinese space lab will come crashing to Earth and no one’s sure where massive chunks of it will land.
The Tiangong 1 — which translates to “Heavenly Palace” — has orbited the planet for the last six years and will burn up into the atmosphere between this month and April 2018, Chinese officials have said.
While the structure has descended over more than a year, it’s plummeting recently picked up speed, the Guardian reports.
The 8½ ton lab could bring hell on Earth as it disintegrates its way through the ozone.
Fragments as heavy as 220 pounds could make impact with the planet, Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told the Guardian last week.
“You really can’t steer these things,” McDowell told the newspaper last year. “Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won’t know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it’s going to come down.”
“Not knowing when it’s going to come down translates as not knowing where it’s going to come down.”
Even a small tweak in the atmosphere could bump the 34-foot long lab “from one continent to the next,” he told the Guardian last September.
Tiangong 1 was the first lab China launched into space, and it was considered a major victory for the nation when it went up in September 2011.
China, in a memo to the UN in May, said it’d stopped using the station as of March 2016.
Tiangong-1, photographed a year before it launched in September 2011, was considered a major win for China’s space program.
(Kin Cheung/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Tiangong 1 wasn’t likely to present too much of a threat, the nation added.
“The probability of endangering and causing damage to aviation and ground activities is very low,” China wrote in the memo.
Regardless, China said it will closely monitor the burning space lab as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and warn of any major threats.
Larger space stations have burned up on reentry without causing too much damage.
Take the Salyut-7 and Kosmos 1686 — two connected spacecrafts last used in the mid-1980s — that broke up over Argentina in 1991.
The vessels each weighed about 20 tons, debris from which rained on Capitán Bermúdez in Argentina.
More than a decade earlier, NASA’s first space station, Skylab, broke up over western Australia.
Intrigue in the 1979 crash was so high that the San Francisco Examiner offered a prize to the first person who brought a piece of the 77-ton station to its newsroom.
The winner was Stan Thornton, who in 2001 told Wired magazine the crash featured a “bunch of brightly colored lights, followed by big sonic booms.”