Parts of out-of-control Chinese space station could fall on NJ
TRENTON — New Jersey is one of the places on Earth where a Chinese space station the size of a school bus might crash on Sunday.
Tiangong-1, the first space station built and launched by the Chinese in 2011, is expected it to enter the earth's atmosphere on Sunday. The country's space agency lost control of the orbiting station in 2016 and it has been drifting uncontrolled ever since. A company called Aerospace Corporation has tracked the station the past couple of months to better determine where debris will fall.
It's not known exactly where the 9.4 ton craft will fall. But based on Tiangong-1’s inclination, the company said that "we can confidently say that this object will reenter somewhere between 43° North and 43° South latitudes." That's an area which includes New Jersey and most of the United States.
Meteorologist Dan Zarrow said space junk falls out of orbit and back to earth all the time but just burns up in the atmosphere. Bigger objects like Tiangong-1, however, have the potential to reach the ground before breaking up and burning up.
But there's no reason to panic.
"The chance of the 100 metric ton space station will hit you square in the head? Very low, as the potential landing zone covers about half of the globe. But the risk that a piece of space station debris hits some populated area, somewhere in the world? Well, it's not zero," Zarrow said.
Aerospace said the odds of the craft hitting a person are "about 1 million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot" because much of it will burn up in the atmosphere.
The pieces that do make re-entry in New Jersey would appear as multiple bright streaks moving across the sky in the same direction, according to Aerospace. Because of the relatively large size of the object, Aerospace expected that there will be many pieces reentering together, some of which may survive reentry and land on the Earth’s surface.
Aerospace said there could be hydrazine, a highly toxic and corrosive substance on board that could survive re-entry.