The Long March 5B rocket, which is about 30 meters high and weighs 22 tons, is expected to enter Earth’s atmosphere “around May 8,” according to a statement from Department of Defense spokesman Mike Howard, who said. said the US Space Command was tracking the rocket. path.
The “exact point of entry of the rocket into Earth’s atmosphere” cannot be identified until hours after re-entry, Howard said, but the 18th Space Control Squadron provides daily updates on the location of the rocket. rocket ship via the Space Track website.
The good news is that the debris plunging towards Earth – while bewildering – usually poses very few threats to personal safety.
“The risk of it being damaged or hitting someone is pretty low – not insignificant it could happen – but the risk of it hitting you is incredibly small. And so I wouldn’t waste a second of sleep on this on a personal threat basis, “Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University’s Center for Astrophysics, told CNN this week.
This enormous range is, in part, the result of the rocket’s blazing speed – even slight changes in circumstances can drastically change its course.
“We expect him to return between May 8 and 10. And in that two-day period, he will tour the world 30 times, ”McDowell said.
“The thing is traveling at about 18,000 miles an hour. And so if you’re an hour guessing when it comes down, you’re 18,000 miles away to say where. “
Still, the ocean remains the safest bet for where the debris will land, he said, simply because it occupies most of the Earth’s surface. “If you want to bet on where something is going to land on Earth, you bet on the Pacific, because the Pacific is most of the Earth. It’s that simple, ”McDowell explained.
The rocket launched a piece of China’s new space station into orbit on April 29, but was then dropped through uncontrolled space until Earth’s gravity began to pull it back to the ground.
This approach is a break from what McDowell calls “best practices” compared to what other space agencies are doing.
“Standards have been set,” he said. “There is no international law or rule – nothing specific – but the practice of countries all over the world has been: ‘Yeah, for the bigger rockets, let’s not leave our garbage in orbit that way. “”
Despite recent efforts to better regulate and mitigate space debris, Earth’s orbit is littered with hundreds of thousands of pieces of uncontrolled garbage, most of which are less than 10 centimeters – about 4 inches. Objects are constantly falling out of orbit, although most of them burn in Earth’s atmosphere before they have a chance to impact the surface.
CNN’s Jackie Wattles contributed to this report.