It turns out that the sky really is sort of falling.
A defunct 2,000 pound satellite the size of a van called the GOCE — Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer — is expected to crash into Earth between Sunday evening and Monday afternoon, but experts are uncertain where it will land.
The satellite is expected to break up into fragments upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and only 20 percent of the its initial mass is estimated to reach the Earth’s surface.
Prof Heiner Klinkrad, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office at ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany, said in an interview on Friday that the risk of a person being struck by a GOCE fragment is “minute.”
The Earth’s surface is 70 percent water, while the majority of the human population inhabits only about 3 percent of the landmass, according to Columbia University’s Global Rural Urban Mapping Project.
“Statistically speaking, it is 250,000 times more probable to win the jackpot in the German Lotto than to get hit by a GOCE fragment,” said Klinkrad. “In 56 years of space flight, no man-made space objects that have re-entered into Earth’s atmosphere have ever caused injury to humans.”
Natural objects, however, are a different story.
In Feb. 2013, a near-Earth asteroid — now called the Chelyabinsk meteor — fell to Earth over Russia at nearly 60 times the speed of sound.
The meteor burned 30 times brighter than the sun, and exploded in the air emitting a shockwave between 20-30 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
In addition to the damage caused to nearby buildings, 1,491 people reportedly suffered serious injuries from the blast, including skin burns, retinal damage, and broken bones.