Sometime in the next few days, China’s doomed Tiangong-1 will fall to Earth, and no one really knows where. To add even another layer of absurdity to the uncontrolled reentry, an astronomer says the space lab might go out in a literal blaze of…something.
Experts monitoring the 19,000-lb space station say its parts will likely land in the ocean, somewhere between the latitudes of 43 degrees North and 43 degrees South. Markus Dolensky, the technical director at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Australia, tells CNN there’s a chance onlookers might see a “series of fireballs streaking across the sky.”
“It is now nearing its fiery demise as it gradually gets slowed down by the fringes of the Earth’s upper atmosphere,” he says. Statistically, it’s extremely unlikely anyone would get struck by a piece of falling to be, so this could just be a free show in the sky.
Tiangong-1, or the “Heavenly Palace,” was launched back in 2011 as a step toward China’s ultimate goal of creating a Chinese space station in the early-2020s. After about five years in orbit, Chinese officials lost control of the space lab and so it’s been slowly falling back to our planet ever since.
New estimates put Tiangong-1’s demise somewhere between March 29 and April 4. The European Space Agency (ESA) reports Spain, France, Portugal, and Greece are all potential crash sites. Again, it’s super unlikely that anyone will get wallopped by debris, but this spacecraft could be carrying toxic chemicals, so it’s best not to touch any space junk, even if you really, really want to.
With fireballs and potentially deadly materials to look forward to, this will be one hell of a show. Be sure to look up, because no matter what happens, you won’t want to miss it.