It's Raining Space Garbage 🛰️

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Chinese space station bound for earth

A Chinese space station (Tiangong-1) is expected to make an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth's atmosphere between March 29th to April 9th. The Chinese lost control of the space station in September of 2016 and are expecting most (but not all) of it to disintegrate upon re-entry. The station is 8.5 tons, and may potentially contain hydrazine, a common propellant for spacecraft. 

People are worried

Some are concerned about the potential ‘high toxicity’ of any debris from the space station. In liquid form, hydrazine is corrosive and can cause dermatitis (extreme irritation to the skin), and is also known to cause cancer. Others who live in the ‘impact zone’ are worried about being crushed by any falling pieces.

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The pessimists talk about how 10-40% of the space station is supposed to survive re-entry. They quote Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell who says that Tiangong-1 is “big and dense”, and we need to keep an eye on it. They also talk about how the hydrazine is labelled ‘highly toxic’ and if it falls in a populated area it could cause damage to residents.

The optimists say uncontrolled reentries of space debris happen all the time, and the odds of someone getting hit by space debris in their lifetime is one in a trillion, literally. They point out that Tiangong-1 is far smaller than several other spacecrafts that have de-orbited within the last few decades, such as SkyLabMir, and Salyut stations, which did not harm anyone. 

Are people in danger?

Tiangong-1’s projected location of impact is between 43 degrees North and 43 degrees South latitude, which is mostly ocean and sparsely populated land. There’s a 1 in 10,000 chance that it will hit ANY person or property. If you’re still worried, you can watch Tiangong-1’s real-time motion here.

Space fail

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