Image courtesy: Insider
On April 29th, China launched a Long March 5B rocket carrying the first module of its new space station, named Tianhe, into the Earth’s orbit. While it did manage to complete its mission, a large segment of the rocket went into orbit and has been hurtling towards the Earth in an uncontrolled free-fall for the past few days.
Though everyone was hoping that it would fall into the ocean or some other unpopulated area, a track prediction has suggested that it could fall in a potentially populated area. According to CNN, this prediction comes from the U.S military and says that the debris will fall in Turkmenistan in Central Asia at around 7 pm Eastern Time on Saturday.
This is not the first time that a segment from a Chinese Long March rocket has fallen back uncontrolled to the Earth’s surface. In 2020, debris from another rocket fell on villages in Ivory Coast, though thankfully no injuries or deaths were caused by that particular incident. However, the chances of casualties can not be ruled out considering the size and mass of the rocket segment this time around. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, states that there is a real chance of damage to whatever it hits, with potential casualties unlikely but not impossible. “Having a ton of metal shards flying into the Earth at hundreds of kilometers per hour is not good practice, and China should redesign the Long-March 5B missions to avoid this,”, he added.
For their part, the Chinese authorities have downplayed fears that the debris could cause widespread damage. A spokesperson from the Chinese foreign ministry told reporters on Friday that most parts of the rocket will burn up upon re-entry and the probability of causing harm on the ground is extremely low. How much of that is true, we will found out in the next 12 hours or so.