Satellite hurtling down to Earth

Skylab,which fell to Earth uncontrolled in 1979 | Image: BBC NewsRain, snow, maybe hail… it’s very rare for anything to come out of the sky and hit you really hard on the head. But the U.S. government now admits that there is a new and dangerous possibility: a bus-sized spy satellite that is currently hurtling back to Earth, completely uncontrolled. It is due to hit us late February/early March. (Click here for a fascinating video explainer)

The problem is that because it died before anyone had time to safely direct it back to Earth, no-one has a clue where it’s going to land. So it could technically land right in the middle of New York City.

However, dangerous as it may sound, the chances of actually being hit by satellite debris are less than one in a trillion – compare that to one in 1.4 million for getting struck by lightning, and it’s doesn’t sound so scary after all. In fact, back in 1979 the 78-ton Skylab Space Station fell uncontrolled back to Earth, and it landed safely in the Indian Ocean. Think of the Challenger Shuttle disaster – there was far more debris there.

Planet Earth | Image: CNN / Getty ImagesWhat would the risks be apart from being knocked unconscious? Well, the satellite does contain hydrazine, a rocket fuel toxic to anyone who comes into contact with it. But that’s basically it.

Should we be scared? The scaremongers may say yes, but of course the sensible answer is no. Even ignoring the 75% of our planet that is ocean, there are still 57,500,000 square miles of land it could touch down on as well. Don’t lose too much sleep over it.


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