September 21, 2011

Space junk to hit Earth this week – but where?

Skywatchers may be craning their necks this Thursday or Friday, trying to catch a glimpse of a dead NASA satellite which is expected to return to earth, creating perhaps a spectacular light show as some of it burns up upon entry in the atmosphere.

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), which measured ozone levels, is supposed to fall out of orbit and into the atmosphere on Friday – give or take a day, according to Beth Dickey, a spokesperson for NASA.

The actual date and time of re-entry is very difficult to predict because it all depends on “solar flux and the spacecraft’s orientation as the orbit decays,” Dickey said in an email to the Star.

Equally difficult to predict is where the debris from the satellite will land, she said. But NASA officials have some clues.