Samuel Case, FISM News
A massive piece of space junk from a Chinese rocket is expected to plummet to earth this weekend, and scientists are still unsure where the 22.5 metric-ton ( 46,000-pound) piece of debris will land. According to CNN this will “be the largest piece of space junk to fall uncontrolled back to Earth since 1991 and the fourth biggest ever.”
Space News reports that according to early predictions, the core stage of the Long March-5B rocket which launched China’s first space station last week, is expected to return into the earths’ atmosphere around May 8. The potential populated landing points include New York, Madrid, Beijing, southern Chile, and Wellington, New Zealand.
U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Mike Howard released a statement saying “U.S. Space Command is aware of and tracking the location of the Chinese Long March 5B in space, but its exact entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry . . . .”
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University, called the situation “really negligent on China’s part.” He explained to CNN why it’s so difficult to determine precisely where the debris will hit:
We expect it to reenter sometime between the eighth and 10th of May. And in that two-day period, it goes around the world 30 times. The thing is traveling at like 18,000 miles an hour. And so if you’re an hour out at guessing when it comes down, you’re 18,000 miles out in saying where.
However, McDowell assured; “the risk that there will be some damage or that it would hit someone is pretty small — not negligible, it could happen — but the risk that it will hit you is incredibly tiny.” He added, “There are much bigger things to worry about.”
As of Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. has no plans to shoot down the remaining pieces of the rocket. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said it’s “too soon to explore options about what, if anything, can be done about this until we have a better sense of where it’s coming down.”
The debris crashed into the Indian Ocean Saturday night.
@18SPCS confirms that CZ-5B (#LongMarch5B) (48275 / 2021-035B) reentered atmosphere 9 May at 0214Z and fell into the Indian ocean north of the Maldives at lat 22.2, long 50.0. That's all we have on this re-entry; thanks for the wild ride and 30K more followers. Good night!
— Space-Track (@SpaceTrackOrg) May 9, 2021