The Pentagon is tracking an uncontrolled Long March 5B missile that could re-enter Earth’s atmosphere


The Chinese Long March 5B missile is expected to enter Earth’s atmosphere “around May 8,” according to a statement by Defense Department spokesman Mike Howard, who said that the US Space Command is tracking the missile’s path.

Howard said that the “exact entry point of the missile into the Earth’s atmosphere” could only be determined within hours of its return, but that the 18th Space Control Squadron would provide daily updates about the missile’s position through Space Track. The Chinese used the missile to launch part of their space station last week. While most space debris objects burn in the atmosphere, the size of the missile – 22 tons – raised concerns that large parts could return to the interior and cause damage if it hit populated areas.
But Jonathan McDowellAn astrophysicist at Harvard University’s Center for Astrophysics told CNN that the situation is “not the end of days”.

“I don’t think people should take precautions. The risk of some harm or someone getting hurt is very small – it can’t be neglected, it can happen – but the risk of it infecting you is very small. So I will not lose a second of sleep because of this on the basis of personal threat. ”

“There are much bigger things to worry about.”

McDowell explained that determining where the debris could be headed is nearly impossible at this point due to the speed at which the missile is moving – even with slight changes in conditions that radically alter the trajectory.

“We expect to re-enter it sometime between the eighth and tenth of May. And in this two-day period, it rotates around the world 30 times. The thing travels at 18,000 miles per hour. So if you’ve been out for an hour guessing when you’re going down, you’re 18,000 miles away to say where. ”

McDowell added, “So you shouldn’t believe anyone who says to you, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve heard he’s coming down in that particular place.'” “Do not believe them at least a few hours before re-entry because we will not know in advance.”

However, the ocean remains the safest bet on where the debris will fall, he said, just because it occupies most of the Earth’s surface.

McDowell said: “If you want to bet where something will land on Earth, you are betting on the Pacific Ocean, because the Pacific Ocean is the largest part of the Earth. It’s that simple. ”

The concern over space debris comes after China launched the first unit of its planned space station last Thursday morning from the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan, according to the China National Space Administration.

Chinese space station It will not be launched at once; It will be assembled from several units that will be launched at different times. Chinese state media has reported that the Chinese space station will be operating at full capacity by the end of 2022.

CNN’s Katie Hunt contributed to this report.


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