Nothing like a little bit of panic to welcome the weekend. A 23-ton piece of debris from Chinese rocket Long March 5B will fall to Earth this Saturday, according to the New York Times, and experts don’t know exactly where it will land. Mystery! Intrigue! The very small probability of being squashed by space trash!
Typically, this type of debris falls shortly after a rocket’s launch or is guided to a safe landing area, like the ocean, via an engine refiring. But not this big boy. The ten-story piece of Long March 5B — which is about 20 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty — is one of the largest items to reenter Earth’s atmosphere in decades.
As of now, the debris is predicted to fall somewhere between latitudes 41.5 degrees North and 41.5 degrees South, which, as a map from BBC shows, is an area that encompasses New York City, Beijing, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, and Lagos. You know, just a huge portion of the populated Earth.
Due to the speed at which the debris is traveling, experts won’t be able to determine its precise landing spot until hours before its uncontrolled reentry. Nonprofit Aerospace Corporation is one of the few groups currently making a more specific prediction, saying it will likely fall into the Pacific Ocean near the equator.
“We’re hopeful that it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told BBC. “Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that.” Hopefully!
That said, you can rest assured the chances of the falling rocket debris damaging a populated area are “extremely low,” as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said. If numbers make you feel better, here are a few more to put that probability in context: Oceans account for about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface; 50 percent of the Earth’s land is virtually untouched by humans; and 95 percent of humans live on just 10 percent of the Earth’s surface. So, yes, odds are low that the rocket debris will fall in a populated area. They aren’t zero, but they’re pretty minuscule.
So, I guess just keep an eye out on Saturday. Maybe wear a helmet or use this as a YOLO-fueled excuse to shoot your shot this weekend.