By now, you’ve probably heard something about a piece of a rocket from China falling back down to earth this weekend and you likely have a few questions, including: Am I in danger of getting hit by this rocket? It’s a totally fair question and we have the answer to that and a few other things you are likely wondering about this very unusual story. Here is what you need to know.
Last week, China launched part of its new space station but part of the Long March 5B, the country’s largest rocket, is currently out of control in orbit. By this weekend, it is expected to make an “uncontrolled re-entry,” which basically means that a piece of the rocket will fall back down to earth.
Is this normal?
Sort of. Debris from rocket launches falling back down to earth is fairly common. But usually, these are planned, with discarded core rockets or first-stage rockets falling into the ocean before the rocket goes into orbit.
In this case, the piece of the rocket will be coming back down from orbit, which adds a degree of uncertainty that experts say presents a certain level of danger. Why? Because the debris could end up landing on an inhabited area, potentially harming people or causing damage.
What areas are safe?
At this point, we don’t have a definitive answer about where the debris may land, as the Pentagon released a statement saying that a location “cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry.” But experts say that the Long March 5B booster will land somewhere between 41.5 degrees north latitude and 41.5 degrees south latitude.
That means that northern cities like Chicago are expected to be safe but New York City or Los Angeles could experience the debris. Basically, at this point, any potential danger zone remains pretty massive, even the majority of people in that zone will not be affected at all.
Our latest prediction for CZ-5B rocket body reentry is:
🚀 09 May 2021 03:53 UTC ± 11 hours
Reentry will be along one of the ground tracks shown here. It is still too early to determine a meaningful debris footprint. Follow this page for updates: https://t.co/p2AU9zE3y2 pic.twitter.com/1depRKMk6f
— The Aerospace Corporation (@AerospaceCorp) May 7, 2021
When will debris hit?
Similar to location, we don’t have an exact time for when the debris will make impact but it is widely estimated that it will be late Saturday or early Sunday. The Aerospace Corporation’s most recent estimation has the rocket body re-entering at 11:53 pm EST, though there is an 11 window in either direction.
So am I in danger?
Probably not but it is technically possible if you are in the “danger zone.” The chances of the debris hitting anyone remain extremely low. The Chinese government has insisted that the chances of anyone being hit are extremely low because the thin aluminum-alloy exterior will easily burn up in the atmosphere. And even if a few pieces don’t burn up, they are most likely going to fall into the ocean anyway.
But even with all of that being true, the facts remain that until we know for sure where and when the debris will land, there is still a chance that the falling pieces could hurt people. The best way to ensure you and your family are safe is by keeping up with the latest updates.