Satellite plunges toward Earth Friday

September 23, 2011 10:44:35 AM PDT
NASA scientists are monitoring a dead satellite that is plummeting toward earth and may come crashing down as soon as Friday.

It's unclear where the satellite will land, but it's safe to say no one would want to be hit by it. Fortunately, the odds are that you probably won't be.

"It sounds like it's a random occurrence. Probably in the City of Chicago you have more chance of being hit from debris from a building than you do from a satellite in the sky," said commuter David Brown.

Educators at Chicago's Adler Planetarium have been tracking the six-ton satellite's projected itinerary and scientists are scrambling to determine exactly where it will hit. The estimated time of arrival is late Friday or early Saturday.

"Unless we were on that satellite with a rocket directed, controlling it, directly to bring it down over a specific spot, we cannot pinpoint this," said Adler Planetarium Master Educator Michelle Nichols.

On Friday morning, NASA cautioned that there's a low probability any surviving debris will land in the United States. Earlier this week, NASA said North America would be in the clear. The retired satellite, which was used to study the Earth's ozone layer, is expected to break into pieces and the debris will stretch across a 500-mile path, which is about the distance from Chicago to Memphis.

"The odds of being directly killed by a satellite piece is one in 21 trillion," Nichols said.

No one on this side of the planet seems to be flinching or looking over their shoulder for space junk.

"I'm much more concerned about my portfolio falling than I am a satellite," said commuter Ray George.

"I don't think I'm going to worry about it. I'll just go on with what I'm supposed to do today," said Daniele Roberts.

Scientists say if re-entry is visible, it would look like a bright star with a long glowing tail. Here's some good reassurance that you probably won't see it: Since the dawn of the space age, no one has been injured by falling space debris.

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