An 8-ton Chinese space lab will crash into Europe or the U.S. Don't panic yet.

Experts can't agree on exactly when or where, however.

Experts are warning that an eight-ton Chinese space laboratory that has a deteriorating orbit path will likely crash into Europe in early April—but there’s a bit of disagreement on exactly when and, indeed, where. 


Tiangong-1 is a satellite laboratory that contains large amounts of hydrazine, which is a toxic and flammable chemical that can wreak all kinds of havoc on the human body, including poisoning the blood, kidneys, lungs, the central nervous system, and damage to eyes, nose, mouth, and respiration. It can also produce severe burns on the skin. 

America’s Aerospace Corporation (AAC) predicts the first week of April for re-entry and the crash landing of some of the pieces, while the European Space Agency (ESA) has a much larger window of March 24 to April 19. 

While it’s not clear just how much of the craft will incinerate on the way to Earth’s surface, AAC is predicting some of the chunks will survive—and if they do, they will scatter over the span of a few hundred kilometers.  

The ESA is predicting that “Reentry will take place anywhere between 43ºN and 43ºS (e.g. Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, etc.). Areas outside of these latitudes can be excluded. At no time will a precise time/location prediction from ESA be possible. This forecast will be updated approximately every week in January and February.” However, a fresh report on this story is saying it could even end up in Northern U.S. states. 

Chart showing the descent of the Tiangong-1. Image credit, Jonathan McDowell.

After the craft lost radio connection with China’s Space Agency after being launched in 2011, it began to slip into a lower and lower orbit, and it just started dipping into Earth’s atmosphere. 

A somewhat alarming warning from Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) states: “Potentially, there may be a highly toxic and corrosive substance called hydrazine on board the spacecraft that could survive reentry. For your safety, do not touch any debris you may find on the ground nor inhale vapors it may emit.”

While craft like this frequently pass through Earth’s atmosphere, the concern is that this one is particularly large. 

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard University, seems a bit less worried about the satellite than some, but he still has a note of caution, as he told The Guardian. “Every couple of years something like this happens, but Tiangong-1 is big and dense so we need to keep an eye on it.” 

Ethnic chauvinism: Why the whole world shouldn’t look like America

We are constantly trying to force the world to look like us — we need to move on.

Videos
  • When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, many Americans jumped for joy. At the time, some believed there weren't going to be any more political disagreements anywhere in the world. They thought American democracy had won the "war of ideas."
  • American exceptionalism has sought to create a world order that's really a mirror image of ourselves — a liberal world order founded on the DNA of American thinking. To many abroad this looks like ethnic chauvinism.
  • We need to move on from this way of thinking, and consider that sometimes "problem-solving," in global affairs, means the world makes us look like how it wants to be.
Keep reading Show less

Physicists find new state of matter that can supercharge technology

Scientists make an important discovery for the future of computing.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a new state of matter called "topological superconductivity".
  • The state can lead to important advancements in quantum computing.
  • Utilizing special particles that emerge during this state can lead to error-free data storage and blazing calculation speed.
Keep reading Show less

First solar roadway in France turned out to be a 'total disaster'

French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.

Image source: Charly Triballeau / AFP / Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • The French government initially invested in a rural solar roadway in 2016.
  • French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
  • Solar panel "paved" roadways are proving to be inefficient and too expensive.
Keep reading Show less