By Christy Strawser
CBS Detroit Managing Editor
The Associated Press says North America is off the hook when it comes to flying space debris expected to hit Earth at some point Friday or Saturday. So, that’s one less thing metro Detroiters have to worry about.
Well, unless comedian Stephen Colbert has his way. The host of the “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central took to the airwaves to say, “Let’s just pray it lands somewhere where it can’t do any damage — like Detroit.” See the video here.
Nice try, Colbert. Alicia Chang, AP science writer, said scientists don’t know exactly where and when a decommissioned NASA satellite will plummet to Earth, but the 6-ton satellite is expected to break into more than 100 pieces as it sails through the atmosphere.
Most of it will burn up before it hits the Earth.
But not all of it.
Twenty-six hunks of steel — the largest expected to weigh about 300 pounds — are expected to survive. With nearly three-quarters of the world covered in water, chances are that it will be water instead of land, according to the Associated Press.
CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reported it will likely fall somewhere over the South Pacific — nowhere near the United States, Canada, Mexico, or, of course, metro Detroit.
NASA officials are expected to be able to pinpoint its trajectory a few hours ahead of its appearance, most recently estimated at sometime later this afternoon or early Saturday morning. And yes, there is an app for that. Check out the new Android app here that lets you point your phone at the sky and see markers for any nearby satellites.
So, will anyone be able to see the satellite from here? Probably not.
If anything is visible from North America, “it’ll look like a long-lived meteor,” Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., told the Associated Press.
And forget the jokes about buying football helmets today to stay on the safe side. Nicholas Johnson, the head of NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, estimated for MSNBC that the chances of space debris from the satellite hitting anybody on Earth are 1 in 3,200.
Factoring in where the population will be located at any given time, that translates into a 1-in-20 trillion risk for any particular person, Johnson added.
“Only a very, very small probability of anything bad happening to anybody. It’s, you know, it’s a big, big planet and the chance of hitting anywhere near anybody is pretty small,” Wilbert Skinner, a researcher for the University of Michigan’s Department of Atmospheric Oceanic & Space Science, told WWJ news radio earlier this week .