Well this is exciting: NASA's 6.5-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) will be re-entering Earth's atmosphere in what NASA has described as "an uncontrolled fall" — but precisely when and where the satellite will re-enter remains a mystery.
Who wants to play "guess UARS re-entry day"?
"It is too early to say exactly when UARS will re-enter, and what geographic area may be affected, but NASA is watching the satellite closely and will keep you informed," NASA said in a statement released earlier today. The spacecraft (or pieces of it, anyway) are expected to make landfall sometime between late September and early October.
Much of the massive satellite (pictured here, and in the artist's depiction up top), which measures 35 feet long and 15 feet wide, is expected to burn up in Earth's atmosphere, but at least one computer analysis has predicted that as many as 26 components — weighing in at a total of over 1100 pounds — will actually break atmosphere and make landfall, falling within an estimated debris footprint length of 500 miles.
While there is certainly a chance that satellite debris will land in populated areas, NASA has stated that the risk to public safety or property is extremely small. Nevertheless, the agency has advised that, come UARS re-entry day, "if you find something you think may be a piece of UARS, do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance."
NASA plans to keep everyone posted on the status of the satellite with weekly updates, switching to more frequent updates when it becomes clearer when, exactly, we can expect UARS to return home.
Top image via NASA
Photo of UARS via NASA Marshall Space Flight Center