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Watch Your Head!
September 23, 2011 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Some time late tonight or early tomorrow morning, NASA's UARS (a satellite deployed in 1991 to study the ozone layer) will fall to the Earth. The odds of it hitting you are about 1 in 20 trillion, but the odds of it hitting somebody somewhere is about 1 in 3,200. The Planetary Society Blog has a nice writeup as well. Follow along yourself with NASA or the Center for Orbital Reentry Debris Studies.

There's also SatelliteAR, an Android satellite tracking app. And an unofficial Twitter.
posted by kmz (74 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Best heads up I've gotten all day. Thanks!
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:36 PM on September 23, 2011


Was anyone else expecting the unofficial Twitter to be like bronxzooscobra's?
posted by zamboni at 12:39 PM on September 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh my god! It's headed straight for the camp! If only there was a way we could generate a series of random numbers in time.......
posted by schmod at 12:42 PM on September 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


The Cage of Sand
posted by run"monty at 12:42 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Center for Orbital and Re-entry Debris Studies
FEMA Planning page
posted by aught at 12:42 PM on September 23, 2011


Oops, OP already had the first link. Thanks for the info to dilute the hype.
posted by aught at 12:43 PM on September 23, 2011


"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department."
posted by entropicamericana at 12:46 PM on September 23, 2011


Junk Satellite, originally by Man or Astroman?
posted by drezdn at 12:46 PM on September 23, 2011


Hasn't the US dropped enough shit on Libya?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:47 PM on September 23, 2011


John Belushi's take on a similar incident in the '70's. Amazingly relevant.
posted by cosmac at 12:49 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I slept over my friend's house the night Skylab was supposed to fall to Earth. We had his telescope out for a "Skylab Watch" and about every five minutes one of us swore we saw something falling in the sky. We were convinced it was going to come down in our own yard.

I miss being a kid sometimes.
posted by bondcliff at 12:52 PM on September 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Odds of it hitting your car, however, are 1-in-it's going to hit your car. Somewhere your insurance doesn't cover. Heads up.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:53 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


John Belushi's take yt on a similar incident in the '70's. Amazingly relevant.

I was startled, then nostalgic, when NPR's All Things Considered played the audio of this clip the other day.
posted by aught at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2011


Look out!

posted by JBennett at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2011


Devo's take on the Skylab reentry.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:56 PM on September 23, 2011


Dammit.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:56 PM on September 23, 2011


Which link is the satellite footprint calculator?
posted by Zippity Goombah at 12:57 PM on September 23, 2011


There were some good comments in the Guardian thread about this:
twinkle twinkle little star
how I wonder what you are
A pile of nasty space junk
twice the size of a car

...

Perfect opportunity to go up to my roof and drop a huge twisted lump of smoking metal on my neighbour's sunlight-blocking extension.

...

I'm hoping I get hit The red hot metal and technology will merge with my organic parts to create a horrific abomination of flesh and steel, angry at the world that betrayed it.
...I will let you know how it turns out
.
posted by memebake at 12:57 PM on September 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Dammit. I really wanted to see a chunk of it land in the middle of the street in front of my apartment.

Because you know, how often do you get to see things from space fall to earth?
posted by spitefulcrow at 12:59 PM on September 23, 2011


I ARS going to watch out for this.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:59 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reference manual in case you're hit.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:01 PM on September 23, 2011


Metafilter: a horrific abomination of flesh and steel, angry at the world that betrayed it.
posted by drinkcoffee at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2011


A likely scenario.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:10 PM on September 23, 2011


The chances of it hitting somebody are 1 in 3,200. Unless you're that somebody, and then the chances are 1 in 1. Hence, my recommendation is to find someone taller than you and stand next to them.
posted by tommasz at 1:10 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's what we learned from the UARS:
As a result, scientists have gained a better understanding of the energy input, chemistry and dynamics of the upper atmosphere and the coupling between the upper and lower atmosphere. As the first satellite dedicated to studying stratospheric science, UARS focused on the processes that lead to ozone depletion, complementing and amplifying the measurements of total ozone made by the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) onboard NASA's Nimbus-7 and the Russian Meteor-3 satellites. UARS also measured winds and temperatures in the stratosphere, as well as the energy input from the Sun, research that is now being applied to improve weather forecasting models and help scientists understand the forces behind global climate change.

Before UARS, little was known about the atmospheric region between 80 kilometers and 300 kilometers above the Earth, since radio-equipped balloons would explode at that altitude, and ordinary satellites burn up. UARS orbited at a safe 600-kilometer altitude, aiming its cameras at the atmosphere below. Although the mission was originally intended for only a three-year mission, its deployment was long enough to observe an entire 11-year solar cycle. Some of the mission's most important contributions came from the four instruments onboard that measured concentrations and distribution of gases important to ozone depletion, climate change and other atmospheric phenomena. Data collected from UARS offered conclusive evidence that chlorine in the atmosphere - originating from human-produced chlorofluorocarbons - is at the root of the ozone hole.

In all, the ten UARS instruments have provided the most complete data on upper atmospheric energy inputs, winds, and chemical composition ever gathered. Together, these observations constitute a highly integrated investigation of the nature of the upper atmosphere, and help define the role of the upper atmosphere in climate and climate variability. In its first two weeks of operation, UARS data confirmed the polar ozone-depletion theories by providing three-dimensional maps of ozone and chlorine monoxide near the South Pole during development of the 1991 ozone hole.

Moreover, UARS collected data on the chemistry, dynamics and radiative inputs to the upper atmosphere far beyond its designed lifetime. UARS was designed to last 18 months, but upgrades extended its life for years beyond its expected lifespan. The United Kingdom and Canada both provided instruments for this mission, the first spacecraft launched as part of NASA's systematic, comprehensive study of the Earth system.
John Belushi's take on a similar incident in the '70's. Amazingly relevant.

Eh, it was layman's ignorance, showing a remarkable willingness to not look at the situation to find out why it happened, while playing to the crowd for a feel good vibe. But hey, that's a comedian.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2011


I've been frantically searching for my twelve-sided dice all day!
posted by perhapses at 1:12 PM on September 23, 2011


Whoops, pushed Post too soon!

Here are several significant scientific achievements made by UARS instruments.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:13 PM on September 23, 2011


Perfect opportunity to go up to my roof and drop a huge twisted lump of smoking metal on my neighbour's sunlight-blocking extension.

Just to note that the pieces will have long completed the fiery part of their re-entry and will likely just be huge twisted lumps of cool metal when they hit someone or something.

One of my favorite anecdotes in the current media frenzy is that of Lottie Williams of Tulsa, who was "tapped on the shoulder" by a piece of mesh fabric that had come off a re-entered Delta rocket.
posted by aught at 1:18 PM on September 23, 2011


That Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies is a pretty cool site. I will definitely be looking at it tonight to see if I am lucky enough to be able to see the reentry.
posted by TedW at 1:38 PM on September 23, 2011


Oh Satellite above the Earth
How I wonder what you're worth
A million dollars? Who can say?
Until it closes on eBay
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:39 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is this finders keepers? May I keep it?
posted by mightshould at 1:40 PM on September 23, 2011


Not 'UARS' to keep: NASA warns against collecting falling satellite's debris.
posted by kmz at 1:45 PM on September 23, 2011


Who's been doing UARS's previous job (and other stuff)? The A Train!
The Afternoon Train, or "A-Train", for short, is a constellation of satellites that travel one behind the other, along the same track, as they orbit Earth. Four satellites currently fly in the A-Train - Aqua, CloudSat, CALIPSO, and Aura. GCOM-W1 and OCO-2 are scheduled to join the configuration in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Glory was lost in a launch vehicle failure on March 4, 2011. The A-Train satellites cross the equator within a few minutes of each other at around 1:30 p.m. local time. By combining different sets of nearly simultaneous observations from these satellites, scientists are able to study important parameters related to climate change.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:49 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not 'UARS' to keep: NASA warns against collecting falling satellite's debris.

I don't care what NASA says, if their ball lands in my yard there is no way I'm giving it back.
posted by TedW at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Obviously FEMA is always prepared to assist … should any of these components land in the United States," said Nicholas Johnson, chief scientist for NASA's Orbital Debris Program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It's, again, very, very unlikely when you look at the ratio of the land mass of the United States to the land mass of the world. We have had intergovernmental meetings on this issue and I feel very confident that they will rise to the occasion should the occasion arise."

So, um, if it lands in another country...or Louisiana? What is that statute of limitations after launching a satellite into orbit, when it becomes gravity's fault, instead of that of the nation that lit the fuse?
posted by obscurator at 1:58 PM on September 23, 2011


It's a little interesting that NASA is taking such a hardline approach to ownership. Doesn't leave much doubt or wiggle room on liability when a 300kg chunk of sattelite crashes into school killing a 100 or significantly damages say the Taj Mahal.
posted by Mitheral at 2:09 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember the "sky clearance" episode of Max Headroom?
posted by 7segment at 2:10 PM on September 23, 2011


It's a little interesting that NASA is taking such a hardline approach to ownership.

It's probably similar to copyright. If they don't come out strong about ownership on the little stuff, then then legal challenges could be mounted about ownership of the middle or large stuff.

For example, what if I sued for ownership of the Space Shuttle Discovery? If there's no clear precedent about who owns NASA hardware, then there's a potentially long and expensive legal fight with small chase that NASA might lose.

Cover your ass, if it's burning up in the atmosphere.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:17 PM on September 23, 2011


I just like to imagine that this is NASA's first salvo in a global protection racket.

"We're really sorry about how that UARS hit the Taj Mahal, and we'd hate to see something like that happen again... it'd sure be a pity if another one of the thousands of objects we have up there fell back to earth because we don't have enough funding to keep it up there. If you know what we mean..."
posted by quin at 2:31 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


The military http://www.wcti12.com/news/29281991/detail.html is much nicer about finders keepers.
posted by mightshould at 2:39 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not really. They got really bent out of shape about the time I took home that tank I "found" in the National Guard armory parking lot.
posted by quin at 2:44 PM on September 23, 2011


The Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies just updated their page; now they are predicting a landing in the pacific at sunset rather than Africa. The SE US is still not completely out of the running, though.
posted by TedW at 3:03 PM on September 23, 2011


UARS satellite: New images of tumbling US spacecraft
posted by homunculus at 3:07 PM on September 23, 2011


Looks like two elephants having sex, in the middle of the night.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:10 PM on September 23, 2011


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites.
posted by Sailormom at 3:39 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the BBC article above: "The 1 in 3,200 risk to public safety is higher than the 1 in 10,000 limit that Nasa aims for."

So does that mean I can go ahead with my research project that has a 1 in 10,000 chance of killing someone? Cool. ( ...or does that include merely puncturing them with burning metal?)
posted by chortly at 3:40 PM on September 23, 2011


Hence, my recommendation is to find someone taller than you and stand next to them.

But if you think the tall guy is going to get hit, get the hell away from him!

Except them you'd be the tall guy... Hmmm...

What about if you kneel down next to someone slightly shorter than you?
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 4:04 PM on September 23, 2011


Fuck it, I drink the good wine tonight.
posted by Keith Talent at 4:08 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Skkkkkyyyyylaaaaaabbbbbb ....
and the whole Dogs in Space film on youtube.
posted by a non e mouse at 4:41 PM on September 23, 2011


Satellite falling to earth, you say? Hmm. If you need me, I'll be running around the globe accompanied by Solveig Dommarten, recording the brain activity that occurs with seeing the world to take back to my blind mother, who is living in Australia. I'm currently being pursued by several different nations, as well as Sam Neill. Don't worry, I've got an awesome soundtrack.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:31 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


All our paperwork is in order. He's asleep in the bedroom, I'm in the basement.

Love you, babe!
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:59 PM on September 23, 2011


Oh my god! It's headed straight for the camp! If only there was a way we could generate a series of random numbers in time.......

Oh, fuck my cock.
posted by davejay at 7:16 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I watched it for a little while
I like to watch things on TV
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:45 PM on September 23, 2011


I watched it for a little while
And then they showed a shot of me
posted by davejay at 7:50 PM on September 23, 2011


It's coming down in the next hour!
posted by drezdn at 8:10 PM on September 23, 2011


I don't care what NASA says, if their ball lands in my yard there is no way I'm giving it back.

"Happy Fun UARS contains a liquid core, which, if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at."
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 8:37 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


@UARS_Reentry#UARS over Auckland ~136km high
posted by drezdn at 8:58 PM on September 23, 2011


Watch it tracked live.
posted by one_bean at 9:25 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


A voiceover on that feed just said it's not live tracking, and they're "still awaiting confirmation from NASA." Confirmation of what, I have no idea.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:44 PM on September 23, 2011


@NASA It's possible that #UARS is down by now. (Everybody OK out there?) We're waiting for confirmation from US Strategic Command.
posted by one_bean at 9:46 PM on September 23, 2011


"UARS went nearly directly overhead in NorthWest Minnesota. You can tell it was rotating because the lighting on it would fade in and out.. You couldn't pick it out for about 20 seconds and then it would brighten up again so you could easily see it. You can tell in this image how it started to dim again. It came up from the SW and set in the NNE. This was taken around 9:55PM CST."
posted by pwb503 at 9:51 PM on September 23, 2011


Looks like the Southern Ocean SW of Australia is the likely target now. Look out, French Southern & Antarctic Lands!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:12 PM on September 23, 2011


Any surviving wreckage belongs to NASA, and it is against the law to keep or sell even the smallest piece. There are no toxic chemicals on board, but sharp edges could be dangerous, so the space agency is warning the public to keep hands off and call police.
Actual NASA advice.
posted by stbalbach at 10:15 PM on September 23, 2011


Any surviving wreckage belongs to NASA, and it is against the law to keep or sell even the smallest piece.

If your dog pops in my yard, the poop belongs to me.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:18 PM on September 23, 2011


Er, poops. If your dog pops in my yard, please scoop up the exploded remains as best you can.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:19 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If your dog [poops] in my yard, the poop belongs to me.

Unless of course the poop is radioactive. In which case you better get over here with your plastic baggie and take care of this mess. The one thing I learned from this whole UARS thing while digging through related links is that mankind really is stupid enough to try to launch nuclear reactors into orbit.
posted by chemoboy at 10:26 PM on September 23, 2011


Some web reports that the satellite re-entry was seen and possibly may have impacted in British Columbia
posted by Poet_Lariat at 10:43 PM on September 23, 2011


Er, poops.

Er, while your mileage may vary,some poops pop out, so the usage is within parameters. But, in the meantime, hold that monofilament still whilst we get the microlaser.
posted by y2karl at 11:00 PM on September 23, 2011


If they don't come out strong about ownership on the little stuff, then then legal challenges could be mounted about ownership of the middle or large stuff.

Not really. It's the legal distinction between flotsam and jetsam, backed up by the Outer Space Treaty (Article VIII)^. I doubt the target of those claims is the average onion farmer so much as the onion farmer's potentially US-hostile government.
posted by dhartung at 11:04 PM on September 23, 2011


bondcliff: "I slept over my friend's house the night Skylab was supposed to fall to Earth. We had his telescope out for a "Skylab Watch" and about every five minutes one of us swore we saw something falling in the sky. We were convinced it was going to come down in our own yard.
"
I'm so glad to know I wasn't the only weird kid who really, really hoped a chunk of satellite would fall into my backyard. Good times, the 70s.
posted by Dr. Zira at 12:00 AM on September 24, 2011


UFO-quality video of UARS supposedly breaking up over Canada.
posted by dirigibleman at 1:08 AM on September 24, 2011


It appears to have mutated into transluminal nutrinos and hit two hours before it left orbit. Reports have the impact in the Pacific Ocean or is that Alberta Canada. It was reported seen from Florida to Calgary to Hawaii. Due to an early mushroom harvest in British Columbia, people were too stoned to be very coherent about what they saw. "Oh, wow, man!," one witness was heard to say.

NASA confirms that it's down, they just don't know where. The National Office of Popular Culture estimates the buzz was too short to spark a nostalgic DEVO revival.
posted by warbaby at 7:16 AM on September 24, 2011


I do not know how to parse this video, a piece of satellite falling to earth shot with a "specialist camera" in France.
posted by nobody at 6:24 PM on September 24, 2011


I do not know how to parse this video, a piece of satellite falling to earth shot with a "specialist camera" in France.

Where the hell is he renting those lenses?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:11 PM on September 24, 2011


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