Satellite pieces could hit as early as Thursday — but where?

Posted Sept. 20, 2011, at 8:58 p.m.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA scientists are doing their best to tell us where a plummeting 6-ton satellite will fall later this week. It’s just that if they’re off a little bit, it could mean the difference between hitting Florida or landing on New York. Or, say, Iran or India.

Pinpointing where and when hurtling space debris will strike is an imprecise science. For now, scientists predict the earliest it will hit is Thursday U.S. time, the latest Saturday. The strike zone covers most of Earth.

Not that citizens need to take cover. The satellite will break into pieces, and NASA put the chances that somebody somewhere on Earth will get hurt at 1 in 3,200. But any one person’s odds of being struck have been estimated at 1 in 21 trillion.

As far as anyone knows, falling space debris has never injured anyone. Nor has significant property damage been reported. That’s because most of the planet is covered in water and there are vast regions of empty land.

If you do come across what you suspect is a satellite piece, NASA doesn’t want you to pick it up. The space agency says there are no toxic chemicals present, but there could be sharp edges. Also, it’s government property. It’s against the law to keep it as a souvenir or sell it on eBay. NASA’s advice is to report it to the police.

 

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