"The risk that there will be some damage or that it would hit someone is pretty small — not negligible, it could happen — but the risk that it will hit you is incredibly tiny," astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell said

By Jason Duaine Hahn
May 05, 2021 04:52 PM
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Long March-5B Y2 rocket
Credit: VCG/VCG via Getty

A large portion of a rocket that helped take the main module of China's first permanent space station into orbit may fall back to Earth this weekend — and researchers are unsure where it will eventually land.

The 100-foot long section of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket is expected to make its reentry in the next few days, U.S. Space Command said on Tuesday.

"U.S. Space Command is aware of and tracking the location of the Chinese Long March 5B in space, but its exact entry point into the Earth's atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry, which is expected around May 8," they explained in a statement.

According to the Associated Press, the rocket carried the main module of the Tianhe space station into orbit on April 29.

Rockets are typically guided into Earth's atmosphere to burn up in a controlled demolition, but this section of the Long March 5B did not go through that process, the outlet said.

While there is some concern about where the rocket debris may land, astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told CNN the chance anyone will be hit by the wreckage is small.

Long March-5B Y2 rocket
Credit: Hua Jiajun/VCG via Getty

"I don't think people should take precautions," he said. "The risk that there will be some damage or that it would hit someone is pretty small — not negligible, it could happen — but the risk that it will hit you is incredibly tiny. And so I would not lose one second of sleep over this on a personal threat basis," he said.

"There are much bigger things to worry about," McDowell added.

McDowell, who works at the Center for Astrophysics, said the rocket is currently traveling at a blistering 18,000 miles per hour, which has made it difficult for researchers to estimate where it could enter Earth's atmosphere.

"We expect it to reenter sometime between the eighth and 10th of May," he explained. "And in that two day period, it goes around the world 30 times. The thing is traveling at like 18,000 miles an hour. And so if you're an hour out at guessing when it comes down, you're 18,000 miles out in saying where."

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Since more than 70 percent of the planet's surface is covered with water, the wreckage will likely fall into the ocean.

"If you want to bet on where on Earth something's going to land, you bet on the Pacific, because the Pacific is most of the Earth. It's that simple," McDowell said.

According to the AP, the Chinese government has not yet commented on the rocket's reentry, while a government-run newspaper claimed the rocket will burn up in the atmosphere.