When we as Earthlings put satellites in space it’s usually to further our race and improve the technology we use to survive. Rarely do we expect to wind up in an extra-terrestrial game of chicken with pieces of said satellite once it’s outlived its use, but that’s the situation we currently find ourselves in with ROSAT.
ROSAT, a German satellite that was launched in 1990 and retired in 1999, and used to expand our knowledge of black holes and neutron stars, is on its way back to Earth but not in any sort of controlled manner. It has been out of commission for over a decade and its decaying orbit has finally diminished enough for the satellite to begin reentry into our atmosphere. According to the Huffington Post, experts don’t know where exactly the pieces will come down, but they don’t expect them to hit in the U.S. or Europe…because they have their fingers crossed.
Andreas Schuetz was able to give some super vague details about where it will hit and what exactly will make its way to the surface and not burn up in the atmosphere. Anyone between 53 north and 53 south longitude could potentially get whacked with ROSAT’s heat resistant mirror, which will likely be the largest piece to make it to the surface. And since 53N to 53S comprises just about all of the world aside from the arctic and antarctic zones, we are all targets.
Does this not feel a little irresponsible to anyone else, just letting 1.87 tons of metal and glass smash into the Earth and hoping for the best? Currently the satellite is traveling at 17,400 miles per hour, and of course that will slow down drastically once it enters the atmosphere, but this could still potentially cause a fair amount of damage, injury or death. Recently, a NASA satellite splashed down in the Pacific ocean, but even then pieces of the satellite were strewn about a 500-mile stretch of Earth. Should they not have gone up to get it?
Moving forward I’d like to think that a multi-billion dollar government program would be able to make this process a little more safe. But until then, your chances of being struck by one of these is about 1 in 14 trillion, but still be ready to duck and cover this weekend just in case.