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Posted at 01:48 PM ET, 09/19/2011

NASA satellite to hit Earth: What you need to know

A 12,500-pound NASA satellite the size of a school bus is due to hit Earth later this week, the Post’s Joel Achenbach reported today.


The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (NASA - Bill Webster/The Washington Post)
NASA can’t say exactly when or where, but they know this much — the likely crash zone for the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) includes much of the inhabited planet.

As scary as that sounds, there’s a few things you should know that can help allay the terrifying sky-falling scenario:

1. The UARS is going to break apart before it hits.

NASA says the satellite will break into 100 different pieces upon reentry, and only 26 of those will survive.

2. It’s going to be pretty.

The 100 different pieces will create fireballs that will be visible in day time. Kind of like a free light show.

3. It will likely fall into the open ocean.

The satellite will only impact a 500-mile swath of land or sea, and the chances are good it will be sea since Earth is mostly water, and humans occupy only a small portion of the planet’s total area. (Skylab, the “grandaddy of crashing NASA satellites,” and 15 times the size of this satellite, fell into the Indian Ocean in 1979.)

4. The odds you’ll be struck is low.

Very low, in fact — NASA’s calculation is that the chance anyone in the entire human population would get hit is 1-in-3,200.

5. No one’s been hit before.

In over 50 years of space junk like this coming home, no person has been hit or had their property damaged.

But, well, there’s still the margin of error, which NASA estimates will be at plus or minus 5,000 miles even when the satellite is just two hours away from Earth.

Read Achenbach’s full story here.

By  |  01:48 PM ET, 09/19/2011

Tags:  National; NASA; space; science

 
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