It’s pretty common for old satellites and other “space junk” to come falling back down to Earth. While hundreds of pieces of debris come down each year, scientists are nervously watching a 19,000-pound space station’s course because its out-of-control route is making it impossible to figure out where it will crash.
The Chinese space lab, named Tiangong-1, is set to crash back down into the planet at some point in March. China reportedly lost control of the lab nearly two years ago in June of 2016. The Chinese government later released an estimate that predicted Tiangong-1 would come down at some point in late 2017. The vague guess has led experts to conclude that the country’s space agency has lost all ability to direct the crashing station’s course or know where it will land.
“Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won’t know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it’s going to come down,” Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian in 2016. “Not knowing when it’s going to come down translates as not knowing where its going to come down.”
According to reports, there’s only a 1-in-10,000 chance that the massive space lab will actually crash into a populated area and damage buildings. While the odds are slim, scientists have only been able to narrow the crash zone down to between the 43° North and 43° South latitudes; an area that still includes parts of every inhabited continent on Earth.