Duck! Chunks of Russia's failed Martian probe about to crash

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Dec 16, 2012, 12:07 PM EST

Remember a few months ago when it seemed like space junk was falling out of the sky every other week or so? We thought we were done with that, right? No such luck. Start watching the skies, because Russia's crippled Mars probe is about to come tumbling down.

The Phobos-Grunt (doesn't that sound like the name of an intergalactic supervillain?) probe was launched into orbit around Earth back in November. The plan was to get it into orbit, fire its engines and head for Mars. Only that didn't exactly work, and now the thing's just up there, spinning around, waiting to fall back down again.

The guys and gals at Russian mission control have been trying like hell for more than two months to save Phobos-Grunt, but it's a lost cause, and now Russia's space agency is giving the probe a projected re-entry date of Jan. 15, a little more than a week from now. There's no exact time yet, but a little mystery just makes all that fiery metal hurtling down from the heavens more fun, right? Right?

As with NASA's fallen UARS satellite and Germany's ROSAT, a good portion of Phobos-Grunt will burn up during re-entry. But somewhere between 20 and 30 pieces of varying size will likely make contact with Earth. As for where they'll hit, that's a fun guessing game too, because it could be as far north as Calgary, Canada, or as far south as the tip of South America.

Of course, all of this could go splashing down harmlessly in water or in some deserted portion of the planet. But this is 2012, so it doesn't seem too crazy to think we might see a little space-induced mayhem to kick off any apocalyptic year.

(Popsci via The Daily What)