This is not the first incident of its kind as it previously occurred last year.
A state of panic has conquered social media amid news of what has been described as an “out-of-control” Chinese rocket plummeting back to earth.
The rocket is expected to strike over the weekend, around May 8th. But is it worth the panic?
The Long March 5B rocket was launched from China’s Hainan island on April 29th carrying the Tianhe module – living quarters for three crew members involved in the first permanent Chinese space station that is set to be completed by 2022. The rocket was the first of 11 missions required to complete the station.
However, “uncontrollable” debris from the rocket is now expected to return to earth’s atmosphere. The US Space Command as well as other space monitoring agencies across the world are tracking this debris, described by SpaceNews as “one of the largest instances of uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft”.
Where will it land?
Experts believe that the exact place where the remnants will fall cannot be predicted until just hours ahead of its reentry.
Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell said the debris will likely fall into the sea as 70% of the world is covered by ocean, with a chance of some pieces falling on lands in populated areas. It will likely come down in a narrow trail stretching at about 100 miles after breaking into a shower of debris.
Updated orbit height plot for this evening. You can really see now that the core stage perigee is starting to come down a little bit, although the main effect of atmospheric drag is that the orbit is becoming more circular (apogee is coming down, making it closer to perigee) pic.twitter.com/oMM1xfo2tZ
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) May 6, 2021
According to McDowell, as quoted by Reuters, there is a chance that the debris will fall somewhere as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, or anywhere in between.
Meteorologists in the Arab world say they saw the debris pass several countries in the Middle East.
Al Jazeera reported on Wednesday that Iraqi meteorologist Sadiq Attiyah confirmed the rocket passed through Baghdad’s skies.
Jordanian media also reported that the rocket entered Jordan’s skies at midnight on Thursday.
A “Western hype”
Local Chinese tabloid The Global Times dismisses the panic over the rocket as “Western hype”, noting it was “not worth panicking about”
“Most of the debris will burn up during re-entry … leaving only a very small portion that may fall to the ground, which will potentially land on areas away from human activities or in the ocean,” Wang Yanan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
McDowell also told Reuters that the incident is not the first of its kind, and occurred as early as May last year, when remnants from another Long March 5B rocket reportedly fell on Ivory Coast and damaged several buildings with no injuries reported.
Another similar incident took place in July 1979 when pieces from the NASA space station Skylab landed in Australia.
The rocket incident has once again shifted the global attention to space junk, a phenomenon that accompanies space exploration journeys as far back as the launch of Sputnik I in 1967.
Space junk is the product of all the inoperative satellites, rockets and debris from rocket explosions.
The World Economic Forum stated that by 2020, 2,200 operational satellites, 34,000 pieces of debris measuring 10 cm in diameter or larger, up to 900,000 objects ranging from 1cm to 10 cm, and over 128,000,000 pieces under 1 cm were recorded.
The issue with debris is that it takes years to burn up in earth’s atmosphere and can affect operational spacecrafts, which was best depicted in the 2013 film Gravity starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, which saw the astronauts stuck in space because debris hit their shuttle.