Heads up! Something may be falling from the sky!

7:49 AM, Sep 20, 2011   |    comments
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(Courtesy NASA)
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CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- The sky isn't falling, but something will be falling out of the sky later this week. A satellite that has been circling the Earth for 20 years will make a fiery plunge with some pieces expected to reach our planet.

Scientists who study space pride themselves on precision. But ask them where and when the 6.5 ton decommissioned satellite will hit Earth, and they can only come so close.

"This one is tumbling out of control, and so exactly where it's going to hit is a little bit unknown at this time," said Tellus Science Museum astronomer David Dundee.

The Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite, or UARS, was launched into space in 1991 to study the ozone layer. It exhausted its scientific usefulness in 2005 and has been tumbling closer and closer to Earth since then.

The bus size satellite will plummet to Earth sometime around Friday, give or take a day, NASA said.

NASA debris experts predict at least 26 large pieces of the satellite will make it through the atmosphere.

"The largest chunks could be 200 to 300 pounds," Dundee said.

The drop zone for debris could be anywhere between latitudes of north Canada and South America, which is most of the planet.

"If you're a polar bear in the Arctic, or a penguin in Antarctica, you're safe," Dundee said.

There is a 1-in-3,200 chance that UARS debris could hit a person. How does that compare with some of our other fears?

  • The odds of being murdered are 1 in 18,000.
  • The odds of dying in an airplane crash are 1 in 354,319.
  • The odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. each year is 1 in 700,000.

"There's really not a whole lot you can do," Dundee said.

Because 75-percent of the Earth is ocean, the odds are the debris will hit water. If any pieces do hit land, NASA and the U.S. military warn the public not to touch UARS remains. Any debris from the satellite is U.S. Government property. It can't be sold for profit on eBay.

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