The Chinese Long March 5B rocket is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere around May 8. No one knows where. But don’t panic!
It sounds like it’s from a Bruce Willis film: In a statement released Tuesday, the Pentagon said it is tracking a large Chinese rocket that has lost control and is expected to reenter the atmosphere this weekend. Defense Department spokesperson Mike Howard said in a statement cited by CNN that the US Space Command is tracking the trajectory and expects the Chinese Long March 5B rocket to appear “around May 8.”
The exact entry point of the rocket won’t be known until hours before reentry, according to Howard, but daily updates on its location will be available on the Space Track website.
Aerospace.org is also tracking the rocket, and as of Tuesday evening, was predicting a May 8 arrival, around 9:30 p.m. PT — though predictions may change.
But don’t panic. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University, told CNN, “the risk that it will hit you is incredibly tiny. And so I would not lose one second of sleep over this.”
Because the Pacific Ocean covers so much of the Earth, the debris will likely splash down in Pacific waters somewhere, he said.
McDowell also adjusted the time period when the debris is expected to arrive to between May 8 and 10.
On April 28, the rocket helped in the launch of Tianhe, the core module of China’s new, next-generation space station. The space base is scheduled to be completed late in 2022 to serve as a scientific research outpost for China over the next decade, and the only other operational space habitat outside of the International Space Station.
And what goes up, must come down.
In 2018, China’s out-of-control Tiangong-1 space station re-entered the atmosphere over the ocean near Tahiti, causing similar incidents. No one was hurt, and the debris either burned up or found a new home on the floor of the south Pacific.