TOKTO (majirox news) — It was reported that a 6-ton satellite due to reenter the earth’s atmosphere may pass over Japan on its way to grounding Sept. 24, but the precise time and place of its fall was undetermined, NASA said. Calculations made Friday night suggested the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) may pass over either northern Hokkaido, the Chubu region or south of Okinawa.
NASA said that the observation satellite will largely disintegrate upon reentering the earth’s atmosphere, but said that some metal components posed a risk of falling to earth over a region of about 800 square kilometers (309 square miles).
But as the satellite’s falling speed is declining it could change course.
“Re-entry is expected late today,” Nasa said. “The satellite orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent.”
The U.S. Strategic Command, which monitors more than 20,000 objects in low-Earth orbit, predicted the satellite would re-enter the atmosphere as the spacecraft flies over the southern Indian Ocean. Nasa expects the satellite to burn up almost entirely as it enters the atmosphere.
However, Nick Johnson, head of NASA’s Orbital Debris Program told reporters that as many as 26 pieces might survive the fiery reentry. “We looked at those 26 pieces and how big they are and we’ve looked at the fact they can hit anywhere in the world between 57 north (degree of latitude) and 57 south (degrees of latitude).”
Johnson added that the chances that one person anywhere in the world might be struck by a piece of debris were “very, very low odds.”
When the shuttle Columbia exploded and burned on reentry 42.5 tons of wreckage was later recovered. It was scattered over a swatch stretching from Texas to Louisiana and no one was injured nor was there any property damage. Indeed, there has never been a known case of anyone being killed or injured by a falling space object except perhaps for reports of a dog in Egypt that was said to have been killed by a falling meteor, though some scientists doubt this story.
Other than maybe sending Fido to the fallout shelter, inhabitants of Japan can rest easy.