Friday forecast: Partly sunny with a chance of satellite

September 21, 2011 3:15:59 PM PDT
Six-and-a-half tons of tumbling satellite is heading for Earth -- but before you scream "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" -- relax!

Chances are it will crash into some distant ocean.

"The latest is that the estimated date for when the satellite will come down is September 23rd," said Michelle Nichols, master educator at Adler Planetarium. "We have no estimate of the time yet."

It is called the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite and has been in orbit for 20 years. Now, its time is up, and its 7,000 pounds of technology is slowly rolling back into our atmosphere. The satellite will crash somewhere on Friday.

People we spoke to near the Planetarium did not seem too worried - one even said that he remembered "back when Skylab was falling down, and it made for some good parties."

There is very little concern, but Adler Planetarium and NASA are keeping track, because it is estimated that some pieces of the old bird will not burn up and will crash-land somewhere. Seeing as earth is 75 percent water, any pieces will probably land there.

But if they hit land - where?

"Northern Canada, northern Europe, that sort of thing. Down to South America, southern Africa, and the like," said Nichols.

So what are the chances of getting clobbered by this thing? According to NASA, about 20 pieces of satellite will make it to Earth's surface. The possibility of someone getting hit? One in 3,200.

I don't know about you - but, to me, one in 3,200 those aren't very long odds.

"It's not great odds, but if you think about something a little more down-to earth, the chance of getting in a car wreck today is about one in 16," said Nichols. "How about getting killed? Getting killed? One in 21 trillion."

So chances are on Saturday, we will all be here. But wait! Up in the sky! There it is -- no, that's just an airplane. Pulling a banner. I wonder if those guys sell falling satellite insurance...

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