Approximately 1,200 pounds of debris is expected to impact Earth at some point this afternoon, caused by a falling satellite that will enter Earth's atmosphere, say scientists.
The scary part is, even NASA cannot tell us for sure when or where the 6-ton satellite will fall. According to the latest update on NASA’s website, made at 7am yesterday, “Re-entry is expected sometime during the afternoon of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time. The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 to 36 hours.”
The satellite, known as UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) will enter Earth's atmosphere, and because of the heat, it will break into pieces and most of the vessel will actually be melted by the heat. However, approximately 26 metal chunks made of materials that have very high melting points, will make it through and are expected to hit Earth. The largest piece scientists expect to impact us will be about 300 pounds.
Scientists say the chances that somebody somewhere on Earth will get hurt are 1 in 3,200, and any one person’s odds of being struck have been estimated at 1 in 21 trillion.
Don't panic yet, though. NASA calculates that the satellite will not be located anywhere over the U.S., Canada or Mexico during the time when it is expected to reach our atmosphere, meaning the U.S. is off the hook for any impact.
But falling space debris is actually not that uncommon. NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office estimates that medium-size junk falls back once a week. Debris the size of the satellite that is scheduled to hit today occurs less frequently, about once a year.
And what would you do if your property were hit by falling space debris? Don't worry! Uncle Sam has you covered. Mostly, that is.
And international treaty, known as the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, was signed in 1972 and sets forth rules for liability for damage caused by space objects caused by any Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite. This treaty was adopted and signed by the United Nations and when the U.S. signed it they promised to be “absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space object on the surface of the Earth or to aircraft in flight.”
This still leaves a very small possibility of damage occuring from privately funded satellites that are in orbit, but that number is very small.