Over a year ago, Chinese officials announced they had lost control of their very first space laboratory Tiangong 1, and that it would come crashing through the atmosphere in the next couple of years. In May, they specified their time window: sometime between October 2017 and April 2018. And now, we've got a four-day window for Tiangong 1's fiery plummet to Earth: between the early mornings of March 30 and April 2—and most likely on April 1, which is Easter and also April Fool's Day.
You might want to look up.
Tiangong 1, which was launched into space in 2011, is a 9.4-ton, 34-foot-long hunk of metal. As its orbit rapidly decayed, no one could steer it, making its trajectory a guessing game.
“Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won’t know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it’s going to come down," Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian in October. "Not knowing when it’s going to come down translates as not knowing where it’s going to come down.”
Lucky for us, we've got the non-profit Aerospace Corporation tracking Tiangong 1. It agrees that determining the lab's exact reentry point is impossible, but it is "confident" it will be between the 43° North and 43° South latitudes. Here's a handy map of that. Montana, looks like you're in the clear.
For anyone wanting to catch the live show, Space.com has a guide to watching Tiangong 1 fall through the atmosphere.
McDowell said most of the space station will burn up on reentry, but predicted some parts weighing up to 220 pounds will make it to the surface. And even the smallest atmospheric change could bump the station to a different continent. (Controlled spacecraft are directed to a specific spot in the ocean, the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility, when they descend.)
The chances any parts will endanger humans are incredibly slim. China told the United Nations it would closely monitor Tiangong 1's progress. This isn't the first man-made object to fall from the sky, and none have ever hurt people before. Plus, 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water. But wouldn't it be just our luck?
Tiangong 1 translates to "Heavenly Palace." I'll let you draw the metaphor.
From: Esquire US