Here’s some unsettling news: A 19,000-pound Chinese satellite will soon come hurtling back to Earth and no one knows where it will land.
According to a Jan. 3 CBS News article, scientists expect the satellite Tiangong-1 to crash this year, but they can’t say exactly when or where.
"Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won't know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it's going to come down," Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian last year. "Not knowing when it's going to come down translates as not knowing where it’s going to come down."
As the interim senior science, technology and aerospace correspondent for this esteemed publication, a title I made up while re-watching the 1967 sci-fi thriller “Mars Needs Women,” I will attempt to answer some commonly asked questions about this event in case you are worried about being crushed by a Chinese satellite.
Q. Hey, Scott, I’m worried about being crushed by a Chinese satellite. What are the odds I walk out to the mailbox to find a postcard from my neighbor Brenda who is driving out to the Grand Canyon in March with her boyfriend Jeff – you know, that fellow who works down at the asbestos plant and has kind of a lazy eye – and I am squashed flatter than a possum on a four-lane by a Chinese satellite before I have a chance to feed Brenda’s dogs, Jesco and Lil Bit?
A . According to the CBS News article, there’s a 1-10,000 chance the satellite will crash into a populated area – any populated area. Considering how many populated areas are on the planet, the chances that you would be crushed before giving Jesco and Lil Bit their kibble are astronomical.
Q. So you are saying about 50-50?
A. A tad less than that.
Q. Let’s say the satellite misses me but makes a big hole in my yard. I nearly broke my back sewing grass and fertilizing and now some Chinese satellite makes a hole big enough to swallow a Mack truck and I’m going to have to hire Kenny and his backhoe to dig it out and drag it down to the scrap yard where I hope I can get enough out of it to fix my yard. Do you think that’s fair?
A. I do not. Fortunately, by international law, China would have to compensate you for damage. A 2011 story in LiveScience explains that damage caused by objects falling from space is regulated by the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.
The treaty specifies that you have to present your claim no later than one year following the discovery of the damage. Once that is done, China would be responsible for hiring Kenny’s backhoe and all of the reseeding.
Q. Kenny won’t take Chinese money. If I’ve heard him say it once, I’ve heard him say it a thousand times. Do you think I can get American money, or maybe get it on a gift card?
Q. What if it lands across the street at the Jenkins place and their boy Dakota, the least one, runs out of the house and starts licking it. He’d do it, too. I saw him licking the frost off the hood of their Oldsmobile last Friday. The boy ain’t right. Is licking the satellite going to hurt him even worse?
“Potentially, there may be a highly toxic and corrosive substance called hydrazine on board the spacecraft that could survive re-entry,” warns the Aerospace Corporation (as reported by Space.com.) “For your safety, do not touch any debris you may find on the ground nor inhale vapors it may emit.”
Finally, for those who can’t help but worry, the best advice is this: Don’t panic, don’t touch and have Kenny on standby.
Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, NC and a humor columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.