Satellite falling: A 9-year-old hopes it's time for a space junk hunt?

Satellite falling: Astronomers say debris from a spent satellite could plummet to Earth over the Veteran's Day weekend. At least one nine-year-old is hoping to find remnants of the satellite falling to Earth for his upcoming science fair.

Courtesy of NASA Orbital Debris Program
Satellite falling: A satellite that has run out of fuel will soon plummet to Earth, astronomers say. News of the satellite falling to Earth may sound like the doomsday warnings of Chicken Little, but more space debris falling to Earth is more common than one might think.

According to NASA, there’s a chance you or your child could become high tech versions of Chicken Little in the next couple of days when chunks of satellite falling from the sky plummet to Earth and into imaginations.

Technically it will just be a satellite falling, not the sky as Chicken Little famously assumed.

However, the European satellite that’s run out of fuel and is set to drop from orbit in an uncontrolled entry to earth is part of so much technological junk raining down on us you might say that little chicken had a valid point after all.

From spent rocket boosters to weather prediction and satellites that help us GPS our way over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s, humanity is producing new space junk faster than its predecessors can fall back to Earth, according to Space.com.

NASA even has an Orbital Debris Program Office, which shows projection models that look to me as if the “sky” is rapidly becoming nothing but space junk waiting to fall on our heads.

My nine-year-old finds this elating news because it means that he might be one of the lucky kids to find a piece of sky litter that he can take to school for the upcoming science fair.

According to The New York Times, “About 100 tons of debris will fall from the sky this year alone. There are, however, no known instances in which anyone has been injured by space debris.”

That quote is fun because it’s as reassuring to parents as it is disappointing to kids, who often love a little mayhem in their falling satellite action adventure stories.

While there won’t likely be any injuries resulting from a crash, parents in the area where it does fall will have an opportunity to go space-junk hunting with kids.

The Times also reports of the most immediate earthbound satellite, “About 25 to 45 fragments of the one-ton spacecraft are expected to survive all the way to the surface, with the largest perhaps weighing 200 pounds.”

Quin is already thinking of how we could best use a piece of fallen satellite to his advantage.

Since we have spent days pouring over possible project ideas for his school’s upcoming science fair (entrance is mandatory,) the solution was clear – pray for it to hit our yard so he can experiment on it for the fair.

“First thing I would do is call the scientists who told us about meteorites,” he schemed. “I think we’ll need like about 30 scientists on this.”

Quin and I spotted what we thought were meteorites falling over Norfolk two months back and called around to get some information.

I have tried to tell him that the odds of that happening are greater than those of winning the lottery and he said, “Well this isn’t gambling and people win the lottery every day.”

I asked him if he was worried that 100 tons of space garbage will fall on Earth this year and his eyes lit up.

He said, “So, the odds are actually not bad at all that something could fall on us in time for the science fair!”

This is what happens when you raise an optimistic scientist.

So, when should parents of young science fair hopefuls be scanning the skies and looking for falling pieces?

Rune Floberghagen, the mission manager for the European Space Agency’s Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE, told the Times the agency's best guess is on Sunday (Nov. 10), with a possibility for early Monday (Nov. 11).

Oh good, Monday’s a holiday so the kids can be out Chicken Littleing their way to scientific glory all day long.

Meanwhile, I think governments around the globe could use some parenting on cleaning up their space messes. Because they can’t always rely on moms and dads to go out there to pick up after them when it all comes tumbling down.

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