The Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, is estimated to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere sometime around the beginning of April. This eight-tonne space laboratory will burn up on re-entry, however, scientists speculate that some pieces of the spacecraft will make it to the surface.
America’s Aerospace Corporation believes that the Tiangong-1 will begin tumbling towards our planet in the first week of April, while the European Space Agency thinks it will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere between 24 March and 19 April, according to media sources.
Both projections were accompanied by estimates of whether any actual piece of debris will reach the Earth’s surface. The chances of such an incident were very low, the organizations said.
Tiangong is the Chinese term of “Heavenly Palace”, and was China’s first space station, launched in 2011. The initial plan for the spacecraft’s decline was a controlled re-entry that would have allowed it to burn up over an unpopulated section of the South Pacific. Thus, any potential debris would have crashed into the sea.
However, in March 2016 it was reported that Tiangong-1 was malfunctioning which ultimately severed the ground crews’ control of the craft.
What’s troubling about the station’s descent is that it contains toxic chemicals, which may hit the ground, experts warned. One substance aboard the Tiangong-1 is hydrazine.
“For your safety, do not touch any debris you may find on the ground nor inhale vapors it may emit,” the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies said in a statement.
Due to the spacecraft’s chaotic trajectory, scientists were unable to accurately predict where the Tiangong-1’s potential debris may land on Earth. However, Jay Melosh, a professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University, said that the spacecraft’s orbit spans from 43 degrees north to 43 degrees south. This would cover central United States all the way to the southern tip of Australia. Melosh claims that the space station could fall in any place between the two points, however, he said that it would most likely land at any of the two extremes.
According to the Aerospace Corporation, the chance of a piece of debris hitting anyone is “about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot”.
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