In a matter of hours, 19,000 pounds of metal, plastic, and other materials will fall to Earth in a fiery light show. China’s Tiangong-1 space station, nicknamed the “Heavenly Palace,” is in the middle of its final orbits around the planet and will begin to plummet from the heavens.
A new update from the European Space Agency (ESA) gives a smaller window for Tiangong-1’s reentry. The agency forecasts the Chinese space station will cease orbiting the Earth and enter the atmosphere at 9:07 p.m. Eastern within a four-hour window on April 1. Where exactly the station will reenter is still “in the air,” but the agency estimated it will happen somewhere between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south latitudes. The remnants of Tiangong-1 will likely land in the ocean away from any person.
“In just a few hours, we’ll be well within the uncertainty window associated with this reentry, and we don’t expect any more forecast updates with any higher accuracy,” the agency said on its website. “In other words, we’re at the limit of what we can forecast.”
The “Heavenly Palace” was China’s first step in the country’s plan to launch a larger station in 2023. Tiangong-1 began orbiting Earth in 2011 and was part of three space operations. China retired the uncrewed space station in March 2016, not long after the country lost communications with the station.
Tiangong-1 will light up the sky in a matter of hours. Its 9 tons of material will burn away in the Earth’s atmosphere where the temperature for reentry can reach up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The odds of station debris making land is on par with winning the lottery jackpot, but if it does hit land, the Aerospace Corporation recommends people to not inhale the toxic vapors emanating from the burnt materials.