Michigan Governor Rick Snyder ordered the activation of the Emergency Operations Center in the state to closely watch the re-entry of China’s 8.5-metric-ton (9.4 tons) falling space station Tiangong-1, which is likely to make a re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere between March 31 and April 2.
According to the Aerospace Corporation, Tiangong-1 could land anywhere from northern California to Pennsylvania, including the southern peninsula of Michigan. While most parts of the falling space lab are likely to burn in the Earth’s atmosphere upon re-entry, there is a slight chance of a little debris containing toxic hydrazine reaching the surface of the Earth.
“While the chances are slim that any of the debris will land in Michigan, we are monitoring the situation and are prepared to respond quickly if it does,” said Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, Deputy State Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
According to Detroit News, state officials have advised people to stay away from the debris. Any suspected contact with the debris should immediately report the incident to the authorities by calling 911.
China’s first space station Tiangong-1 was launched in 2011 to serve as an experimental platform for the country’s future space projects. The space lab played host to China’s two crewed missions in 2012 and 2013, during which Chinese astronauts carried out docking procedures and other operations on this space station. In 2016, Chinese scientists lost control of Tiangong-1. Since then, it has been orbiting the Earth, gradually coming closer and closer to the planet.
For the past few months, various space agencies across the world have been closely monitoring the path of Tiangong-1. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the estimates of Tiangong-1’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere are “highly variable” as the shape of the upper atmosphere keeps changing, thus affecting the speed of objects falling into it. Currently, the sun’s activity is currently weaker than expected, according to the ESA, and therefore Tiangong-1, which was earlier expected to make re-entry into the atmosphere on March 29, will now fall to the Earth no sooner than April 1.
Harvard University scientist Jonathan McDowell believes just 100 to 200 kilograms of Tiangong -1’s debris will make it to the Earth’s surface. McDowell has been closely monitoring Tiangong-1’s orbit for the past few months, according to Space.com, and he is sure that its re-entry into the atmosphere will produce some “fireballs” in the sky.