You may want to wear a helmet around for the next couple of weeks as falling debris from a rocketship is currently hurtling towards Earth.
China launched a 23-ton Long March 5B rocket this past Monday in order to transport a new module to their orbital space station. Though the module successfully docked at the station, the ship carrying it is now making an uncontrolled descent back to Earth.
While space debris falling back towards Earth is far from uncommon, it is typically controlled and not usually as large as a full-on rocketship. In fact, there are satellites falling from the sky almost daily, yet scientists have created technologies that allow them to responsibly target oceans as a final landing destination. However, China has no control over this massive spacecraft which could theoretically land anywhere on the planet.
Though the ship itself is incredibly large, it will most likely burn up and split into several smaller pieces during its journey back to Earth. That being said, there is still a possibility that sizable pieces of debris remain which could pose potential risks if they land in inhabited areas.
The randomness of the falling debris has countries all over the world on high alert. The U.S Space Command is attempting to track the rocket as it plunges towards our atmosphere, but says they can’t pinpoint its exact destination until a few hours before reentry. It is suspected that the ship will enter Earth’s atmosphere around August 1.
Despite the United States’ preparation, it’s unlikely that the debris winds up in the northern hemisphere. According to the Nature Astronomy Journal, it is significantly more likely that space debris will land in Jakarta, Dhaka and Lagos rather than more populous cities such as New York, Beijing or Moscow.
China has received harsh backlash from governments and agencies worldwide for their carelessness in the situation. Making matters worse, this is the third time in the past three years that China has put the world in a predicament like this. Just last year, a Chinese rocket uncontrollably plummeted into the Indian Ocean, while back in 2020 a 20-ton rocket core passed over both Central Park and Downtown LA before finding its way to the Atlantic Ocean.
The repeated randomness of falling debris due to China’s actions has caused astrophysicists and professionals to speak out and condemn the country’s protocols. NASA administrator Bill Nelson criticized the nation saying, “spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations.” His words prompted China to respond, calling NASA “anti-intellectual.” Boom roasted.
Though the space junk falling from the sky is bound to cause commotion and panic, there truly is very low risk to humans. The rocket will be mostly burned up, only leaving behind small fragments. At least, we hope that’s what happens.