Chinese space station heading for Earth, but probably not you - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Chinese space station heading for Earth, but probably not you

The shape of China's falling space station Tiangong-1 can be seen in this radar image from the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques near Bonn, Germany (Fraunhofer Institute FHR via AP) The shape of China's falling space station Tiangong-1 can be seen in this radar image from the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques near Bonn, Germany (Fraunhofer Institute FHR via AP)
In this Nov. 16, 2010 file photo, visitors sit beside a model of China's Tiangong-1 space station at the 8th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, China. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File) In this Nov. 16, 2010 file photo, visitors sit beside a model of China's Tiangong-1 space station at the 8th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, China. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

(RNN) - A Chinese space station, the Tiangong-1, will likely crash back to Earth this weekend. But if anyone tells you to be on the lookout, rest assured, it’s an April Fools' joke.

There’s virtually no chance any Americans will be hit by debris from the space station.

In fact, the Aerospace Corporation, a California nonprofit, puts it at about 1 in 1 trillion.

The factors against a direct hit are numerous. First and foremost, it’s more likely than anything to simply crash into water – which, after all, covers a significant majority of the Earth’s surface.

And if it does head toward the U.S. mainland, there are many, many more square miles of empty land than there are people for it to hit.

Also, because of the station’s flight path, it can only descend to Earth between 43 degrees north and south, generally. In the U.S., that excludes most of the Pacific Northwest, the Upper Midwest and New England.

Even weighing 18,740 pounds and stretching 34 by 11 feet, the violent reentry through the atmosphere will also break apart much of the station.

It’s still too early to tell when and where exactly it will be headed.

According to U.S. Strategic Command’s Space-Track.org, right now the best guess is sometime on Sunday night. And a spokesman for Joint Force Space Component Command said projecting its location won’t be realistic until it really begins its freefall.

The European Space Agency also reported a stream of solar particles that was expected to influence Earth’s geomagnetic field, and thus the trajectory of the station’s descent, turned out to be inconsequential.

“There are many factors acting on an object as it decays and reenters the atmosphere. These factors include how an object tumbles and breaks up, variations in the gravitational field of a landmass or ocean, solar radiation pressure and atmospheric drag,” the JFSCC spokesman, Maj. Cody Chiles, said. “These factors complicate the ability to predict what happens after reentry occurs; however, accuracy of reentry predictions increase as the reentry event approaches.”

The JFSCC is not unfamiliar with these kinds of events.

They tracked 197 man-made space objects reentering the atmosphere last year, according to Chiles. Of those, 63 were considered “high interest” (due to meeting a size threshold), and precisely none of them resulted in reports of damage to property or people.

“The Joint Force Space Component Command monitors a congested space environment, including tens of thousands of man-made debris pieces,” Chiles said. “By tracking and listing these objects and making that information available, we enable spaceflight safety and increase transparency in the space domain.”

In the event it does land somewhere in the U.S., and someone comes across it, space historian Robert Z. Pearlman told Live Science the primary dangers are being exposed to whatever chemicals and hazardous materials leak out from debris, and cutting yourself on sharp metal.

“It’s not something you want to have your kids run out to touch,” he told the website.

Live Science also reported that, in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, anything that might land here remains the property of the Chinese government. If you find it, and you take it, you are indeed stealing from them and could face legal consequences.

Generally, the public is advised to contact local authorities first if they come across something.

After that, Chiles said North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs could be contacted. Those agencies would be aiding the federal lead agency, probably the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The Tiangong-1 station was built and launched by China in 2011. "Tiangong" roughly means heavenly, or celestial, palace in English.

The Chinese lost control of it in 2016.

The only time a person is believed to have been hit by falling debris from space was in 1997 in Oklahoma. Lottie Williams was hit in the shoulder by a piece of what was later determined to be a Delta II rocket.

She was unhurt.

Copyright 2018 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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