Things may be crashing around our heads soon – sometime between May 8-10, although the chances of that happening, while “statistically significant” are still “significantly unclear.”
These are the bromides the scientific community dishes out to reassure the great washed masses like you and me.
The plot is deathly simple. Parts of a Chinese rocket used to propel the country’s first permanent space station into orbit are now falling back, uncontrollably it seems, to earth.
The good news is the Chinese believe it will “easily” burn up upon re-entry into the atmosphere. The bad news is that no Western agency agrees. They think the debris will be the largest-ever to plummet back to Earth and could weigh several tonnes.
It’s happened before, according to Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell. The last time China launched a similar rocket, they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast. It was seen as a victory for humankind except in the Ivory Coast, where people kept glancing anxiously upwards for years. The current anxiety, reported by Ivory Coast’s news agency, anxiously, is likely to stoke anxieties to a fever pitch.
Meanwhile, the Europeans estimate that the debris will land on a strip of Earth running from southern Spain, Portugal and Italy down to Australia. You can trust the Europeans for their exactitude.
While spit-balling on an estimate, they finally agreed that “between 20% and 40% of the dry mass could survive.” That’s the equivalent of several tonnes of seriously heavy metal.
It was Einstein who came up with the definitive equation about space and it was about time too, but all this space travel is having an impact on Planet Earth.
About 150 tonnes of man-made space hardware fall back to Earth each year which is ridiculous. It’s fortunate that almost 60% of Earth is covered by ocean which, as you can imagine, must cover a mountain of excess.
In addition, space itself is increasingly congested by Earthly junk, courtesy of seven decades of exploration. If Jim Croce is to be believed, that there isn’t anything “meaner than a junkyard dog,” then only Heaven knows what manner of junkyard alien we’ve created.
As if that weren’t enough, civilians hoping to join astronauts on the July 20 inaugural flight of the New Shepard rocket system have two weeks to bid for a single seat in the spacecraft starting now, US aerospace company Blue Origin said yesterday. It’s owned by gazillionaire Jeff Bezos who, for reasons of prudence and sanity, would not “be accompanying the lucky winner” on this historic trip.
The accompanying promo gushed: “if you feel fat or overweight, this will be ideal for you” but the very fine print noted that only the “seriously rich” should apply.
It isn’t clear how science will gain from this particular trip. The rocket booster jettisons a crew capsule designed for up to six people. It reaches a height of more than 60 miles and lingers in zero-gravity space for several minutes before returning to Earth for a parachute-enabled landing.
Apart from inflating Mr Bezos’ ego, it isn’t clear how this helps climate change or benefits humankind in any way. Maybe you just had to be there.
That’s what the promo said.