Just when you thought it was safe to, well, walk around outside, NASA says that a now-defunct satellite expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere Friday has a fair chance of hitting someone.
Just so we're clear, we're not talking about a little piece of space schmutz spiraling down and clipping someone on the shoulder or cracking someone's windshield. We're talking about a chunk of machinery hurtling down from space and turning someone into a miniature Michael Bay movie, and this time Bruce Willis can't save you (he's probably got his very own fallout shelter that he built with his Armageddon money anyway).
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, known as UARS, ceased operations in 2005 after 16 years, and now it's time for it to fall back to Earth after its tenure as really expensive space junk. There's no recorded incidence of anyone ever being hit by falling space debris, but here's the scary thing about the UARS re-entry: When it comes to this particular object, NASA really doesn't know exactly where, or when, this bad boy's gonna fall. From the International Business Times:
"The re-entry of the satellite has advanced due to a sharp increase in solar activity since the beginning of this week. According to the calculations made by the NASA scientists, the satellite will break into 26 pieces as it gets closer to earth. The chances of it hurting someone anywhere on the planet are 1 in 3,200.
The pieces of the dead satellite can land anywhere in the six inhabited continents in a worldwide swath from south of Juneau, Alaska, to just north of the tip of South America."
So, 26 pieces of a satellite. How bad can that be? Well, considering UARS weighs 6 tons (that's about 12,000 pounds, for those of you interested in the math) and is about the size of a bus, probably pretty bad. There are estimates that suggest the biggest piece of debris stemming from this thing could be as heavy as 350 pounds. That's a hefty load to have dropped on your head from miles above.
Also, you know how we said Friday? Well, it might not be Friday. It might be Thursday. Or Saturday. You know, just to make things more exciting.
Bottom line: Watch the skies for space junk. Oh, and if you happen to find a piece of UARS in your swimming pool or at the park or embedded in your buddy's skull, contact local authorities immediately so NASA can come collect it.