Far away, in the great dark chasm of mystery, a hunk of metal the size of a bus and equivalent in weight to four hippos is set to plummet towards Earth at the sonic speed of eight kilometres a second.
While satellites often fall to Earth, and no one has been clobbered by space junk thus far, scientists concede the chance of someone getting hit this time is much higher (1 in 3,200). They also admit they have very little idea where the thing will land.
How did this rather precarious predicament come into being? The story began some time ago, back when the Soviet Union met its demise, and Rollerblades replaced disco roller skates. The year was 1991.
NASA launched a satellite named UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) for ambiguous atmospheric studies. By 2005 UARS was shut down, its mission completed. Since then this celestial space rogue has been floating around the cosmos without a job.
Then sometime during its goalless galactic glide, UARS managed to fall out of orbit. Now it is set to reenter Earth’s atmosphere, where it will partly disintegrate before breaking into an estimated 26 pieces, which will spray across some unknown Earthly destination in lifeless fury.
NASA estimates roughly 550 kilos of metal could make their way to Earth. That’s twenty-six 20 kilogram chunks moving at 23 times the speed of sound, which NASA say could land on any content except Antarctica during “a window” three days either side of September 24.
This graceless return of UARS is being touted as the biggest peace of NASA space junk to fall to Earth in 30 years. Meanwhile, Discovery News has hinted at where they think it might land. “Could be the ocean, could be your backyard”.
While the event appears to be surrounded by a lot of uncertainty, NASA claims they’ll know exactly where it will hit two hours before it enters Earth’s atmosphere. So if you happen to be watching the news at the time, you’ll know to get the hell out of the ominous video store you most unfortunately walked into.
However, Russian scientist, Chuck Chin-Chin, says by using a combination of flight speed, orbit time, trajectory and mean consumer behaviour (released by Apple iPhone), he’s predicted a piece will clobber Mrs Marple while she’s doing Tai Chi next to the acacia fern in Oahu’s public park, Hawaii, at precisely 6:41 am, September 25th.
Mrs Marple has since been contacted and advised to give it a miss that day, just in case.
The wait continues.