The chance of spotting flaming wreckage from NASA’s doomed Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite is pretty remote, but some satellite tracking websites will at least let you know if you’re in the right part of the world.
Exactly where and when UARS will return to Earth remain TBD, though scientists are gaining confidence the deed will be done on Friday. The satellite, which was launched into orbit during a 1991 space shuttle mission, has been slowly making its way back to Earth, tugged by the planet’s gravity, since its mission ended in 2005.
The 13,000-pound spacecraft is expected to break apart as it plows through the atmosphere, with all but about 1,100 pounds of debris being incinerated in the process.
With most of the planet covered in water and vast uninhabited deserts and other land directly beneath the satellite’s flight path, the chance of being hit by falling debris is extremely remote — 1:3,200 UARS debris will strike ANYONE, and 1-in-trillions it’ll be YOU (or me.)
Up to 26 pieces of debris, the largest of which will be about 330 pounds, are expected to survive re-entry, putting on quite a sky show, assuming anyone is around to see it. If skies are clear, the bright meteorite-like streaks should be visible even in broad daylight.
Because UARS is tumbling uncontrollably, NASA and the Air Force aren’t able to predict where and when UARS will re-enter.
“Although it is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry, predictions of the time period are becoming more refined,” NASA said on its website, where it is posting UARS re-entry updates.
Image: Europe's space station cargo ship Jules Verne, re-enters the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on Sept. 28, 2008, after delivering supplies to the outpost. The pictures were taken aboard an aircraft. Credit: ESA