Now that the season has changed to fall, most thoughts turn to leaves changing color and falling off of their trees. However, thanks to the UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) vehicle and its return to Earth, for the next little while, we should also watch for falling pieces of satellite as well as red/orange leaves that moved on for the upcoming season of colder temperatures.
By now, you've probably heard mention of the UARS and its destructive return to Earth, as the satellite breaks apart as it reenters the Earth's atmosphere. Jokes about metal showers and raining bits of satellite are all over the media's trend cycle, but is this much ado about nothing? While a sense of impending "oh no, the UARS is gonna fall on me" may be over doing it, it's good to be aware of potential dangers, especially when they come from above.
A good indicator of UARS' popularity comes from Google Trends, which shows searches have indeed increased as UARS became more and more topical:
As they are wont to do, NASA has been front and center with their coverage of the UARS' return to Earth. So much so, in fact, they've set up an update page with it own RSS feed, their Twitter feed is active with UARS updates, there's a page containing history of the vehicle, an FAQ discussing debris reentry, and other pertinent information, like so:
As of 10:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 23, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 100 miles by 105 miles (160 km by 170 km). Re-entry is expected late Friday, Sept. 23, or early Saturday, Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time. Solar activity is no longer the major factor in the satellite’s rate of descent. The satellite’s orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent. There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 12 to 18 hours.
Besides NASA's normal quality coverage, there are other entities that are non-NASA related that are also providing coverage, like the UARS Reentry Twitter account, which offers entries like the following:
#UARS Fri 23 Sep 2011 18:00UT orbit 87.71 mins
154.7 x 161.7km
Position 24.3N,8.8E alt=158.6km Lit [0.24d] ~Reentry-9.3h
Speaking of Twitter, the #UARS hashtag produces a number of replies, some of them entertaining and some of them informative:
#UARS satellite today are one in several trillion. Very unlikely.The chances that you (yes, I mean YOU) will be hit by a piece of the
There's also a number of videos concerning UARS, and the following does a great job of detailing what happens when the satellite reenters our airspace:
While there is a lot of content surrounding the UARS vehicle available, if you're really worried about getting nailed by a smoldering piece of UARS debris, your best bet would be to pay attention to everything NASA posts. If there is any danger or cause for concern, it's a safe bet NASA will be one of first entities to inform the masses. With all of that in mind, be sure and watch out for falling satellite debris as you're making your way around this evening.
Lead image courtesy of NASA.