Debris from an out-of-control Chinese rocket is expected to crash into the Earth sometime this weekend. Though the risk is slim, it is possible parts of the rocket could hit populated areas—but experts won’t know where it will hit for several days yet. Here’s what you need to know:
- What’s happening? A massive Chinese rocket called the Long March 5B is in the process of crashing down to Earth.
- What was the Long March 5B doing up in space? It was delivering the Wentian lab module to China’s personal space station, which is currently under construction.
- How big is the Long March 5B rocket? According to Reuters, it’s a big one. And it’s China’s most powerful, too. The rocket’s main core stage, which is the part that is hurtling back toward Earth as you read this, is 100 feet long and weighs a massive 22 tons (about 44,000 pounds).
- Why is it falling to Earth? It’s space debris from the rocket’s July 24 launch. Earth’s gravity has latched on to that debris and is pulling it back home.
- Won’t Earth’s atmosphere burn up the rocket on re-entry? It will help break it up, but the rocket is so large that parts of it will make it through.
- Where will the Long March 5B rocket land? That’s the thing—no one knows yet, and we won’t until the rocket gets closer to crashing into the planet. But experts believe the rocket will come down in parts and land over an area that is 1,240 miles by 44 miles wide. Yet they won’t know where until just hours before it hits.
- What are the odds of someone being hit by the falling rocket? Higher than experts would like. Reuters says the odds are between one-in-1,000 and one-in-230. The internationally accepted risk threshold is usually one-in-10,000.
- What are the odds of me being hit by the falling rocket? While the odds of a person on Earth being hit by the falling rocket are as high as one-in-230, the odds of you reading this being hit by the rocket are 6 in 10 trillion.
- Still, I’m worried. How can I track the rocket? The Aerospace Corporation has a page dedicated to tracking the falling rocket here. Currently, its latest prediction is the rocket will hit sometime on July 31, 2022, at 00:24 UTC ± 16 hours. You can also track the rocket’s fall by following the @SpaceTrackOrg Twitter account, or on the home page of the Space Track website.
@US_SpaceCom and @18thSDS are tracking the location of #LongMarch5B (#CZ5B) rocket stage. No one can pinpoint the exact re-entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere until within hours or minutes of its reentry, so time and latitude/longitude estimates may vary substantially
— Space-Track (@SpaceTrackOrg) July 27, 2022
Our latest prediction for #CZ5B rocket body reentry is:
????31 Jul 2022 00:24 UTC ± 16 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/SxrMtcJnj0 pic.twitter.com/CZRQBClOAg
— The Aerospace Corporation (@AerospaceCorp) July 28, 2022