From Space Weather:

RE-ENTRY ALERT: NASA reports that UARS, an atmospheric research satellite the size of a small bus, will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on Sept. 23rd plus or minus one day. [AAHHHG!  We don’t even know WHEN we’re ALL GOING TO DIE!] The disintegration is expected to produce a fireball that could be visible even in broad daylight. [huge flaming ball of hurtling DDDEATH!] Not all of the spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere, however; according to a NASA risk assessment, as many as 26 potentially hazardous pieces of debris could be scattered along a ground track some 500 miles long. But where? [We don’t know when or…. where?!?] No one can say. Because of the rapid evolution of UARS’s decaying orbit, the location of the debris zone is not yet known. Stay tuned for improved predictions as the moment of re-entry nears.

On Sept. 15th, astrophotographer Theirry Legault video-recorded the doomed satellite during one of its last passes over France:

“The satellite appears to be tumbling, perhaps because a collision with satellite debris a few years ago,” notes Legault. [junk hitting junk?  It’s all so unpredictable!] “The variations in brightness are rapid and easily visible to the human eye.” (Other observers have reported UARS flashes almost as bright as Venus.)

For last-chance sightings of this brightly flashing satellite, please check the Simple Satellite Tracker or download the Satellite Flybys app for your smartphone.

Falling… burning… hurtling… unpredictable killer space bus junk.

Doomed.  We’re all doomed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. bvb says:

    Father! You missed the perfect opportunity to remind us all to go to Confession, or at least to enjoy that one last cup of Mystic Monk coffee.

  2. APX says:

    Well, I guess it’s a good thing I spontaneously ended up at my parish on Saturday and went to confession a week earlier than usual.

  3. Geoffrey says:

    I wonder if my umbrella will protect me?

  4. thereseb says:

    I bet you now regret your opposition to giant Mass puppets, Father. You could have ducked under one and been safe.

  5. pelerin says:

    Oh dear! I am wondering whether to run to my nearest cave or just put on an old ARP helmet which my father-in-law used to wear while fire watching in London during the 2nd World War. Somehow I don’t think the helmet will be much use against something the size of a bus and I don’t know of any caves in the vicinity.

    The exact time of the re-entry appears not yet to be known but if it has to happen over my town I hope it is between 7 and 8pm when I shall be at Mass (TLM) and hopefully prepared for the outcome.

  6. mamosco says:

    Here’s a tracking link so we know where it is at all times!|33055

  7. Kerry says:

    Perhaps it will land in the desert, somewhere near that black rock…

  8. Joe in Canada says:

    perhaps driven by a flammable humanoid robot, recently awoken in space, with nothing more to lose?

  9. Legisperitus says:

    Reminds me of when I was a kid and Skylab fell. Ah, those were the days…

  10. Charivari Rob says:

    …and so many of you sneered at the statue of Blessed JPII! Looks like a safe haven to me!

  11. Rich says:

    There are teachers sharing information about the satellite with students at the elementary school at which I work. I have noticed though that many of the students don’t understand probability yet and don’t realize that that the 1/3200 chance that the satellite hit a person are quite small, and the chance that it hits them personally – about 1/2,000,000,000,000 – is even smaller.

  12. irishgirl says:

    Ah yes, I remember when Skylab fell, too.
    Well, let’s hope it does fall someplace that’s sparsely populated.

  13. mike cliffson says:

    I shot an arrow in the air
    It fell to earth, I soon learnt where
    A whole lot of people thought it a new way
    T get to New haven via the Thruway…………..

  14. DisturbedMary says:

    Stay awake. Keep your lamp lit.

  15. Andy Lucy says:

    “Because of the rapid evolution of UARS’s decaying orbit, the location of the debris zone is not yet known.”

    Shouldn’t that be “devolution?”

  16. Andy Lucy says:

    “I wonder if my umbrella will protect me?”

    Not likely, but make sure you have your towel. I am sure you are a hoopy frood, and you’ll have your towel.

  17. Laura R. says:

    …and so many of you sneered at the statue of Blessed JPII! Looks like a safe haven to me!

    Charivari Rob, that’s the best laugh I’ve had all day!

  18. Charivari Rob says:

    Glad I could oblige, Laura R.

    I decided that line would work better with this audience.

    The alternate quip I was considering was:

    …of course we’re all wondering how a bus got in space, anyway. As you might imagine, there’s an interesting story. Back in 1978, ABC was going to do a combination sitcom cast reunion movie and Afterschool Special titled “The Partridge Family Goes to Skylab”. Unfortunately, the bus launch overwhelmed the budget and filming was never completed.

  19. pm125 says:

    I’d really rather worry about children batting baseballs or throwing snowballs at buses.
    Evening news said somewhere between Newfoundland and Argentina…

  20. Tony Layne says:

    And thus came the suddenly dramatic end of the Magical Mystery Tour.

    @ Andy Lucy: And just remember two words, written in large, friendly letters — Don’t Panic!

  21. pelerin says:

    I see from the latest update that it will not be passing over the US when it disintegrates so many readers can breathe a sigh of relief now! However for the rest of us on the other side of the Atlantic it has not given any details of where it will be passing over which is a little worrying to say the least.

  22. jaykay says:

    I’m sure my tinfoil hat will protect me

  23. pelerin says:

    My amateur astronomer brother has just informed me that it looks as if it will be coming over my area of Britain and has suggested I get out my hard hat! We do not have cellars as in America but during the war people survived air raids by hiding under the stairs. An elderly neighbour told me that she survived under her kitchen table in London for 7 hours whilst the rubble of her house was dug away. I fear the impact from the space debris may be more substantial than that from a doodlebug!

  24. AnAmericanMother says:

    I thought that Anderson shelters were distributed for back gardens – Spike Milligan has a hilarious riff on one in the opening chapter of his book Hitler, My Part in His Downfall. You wouldn’t think WWII could be funny, but his take on it is (mostly).
    Oddly enough, my dad and his Army buddies (they had a reunion at mom and dad’s house a few years ago) seem to have a similar take – they acknowledge the bad parts, but mostly they remember the good times and the laughter.
    We can probably manage to laugh about this one, so long as it doesn’t hit a heavily populated area. And the chances of that are almost vanishingly small (thinks: better check garage for riding helmet or kayaking helmet).

  25. pelerin says:

    An American Mother – I don’t think everyone had an Anderson shelter and of course if you did not have a garden then you could not have one. There were public Air Raid shelters and the Underground was used too. (Now there’s an idea for tomorrow – a trip to London and a ride on the underground!!) I believe Anderson shelters were just a reinforced hole in the ground with a corrugated roof – ok if a bomb dropped nearby but unable to survive a direct hit. Never saw one though as I was a baby at the time but I do remember playing on bomb damaged areas after the war.

  26. AnAmericanMother says:

    I remember Henry Moore’s eerie painting (in the Tate) of the Underground being used for an air-raid shelter.
    Wrt the effectiveness of the Anderson shelters, I started looking around, and here’s what I found:

    The Anderson shelters performed well under blast and ground shock, because they had good connectivity and ductility, which meant that they could absorb a great deal of energy through plastic deformation without falling apart (This was in marked contrast to other trench shelters which used concrete for the sides and roof, which were inherently unstable when disturbed by the effects of an explosion – if the roof slab lifted, the walls fell in under the static earth pressure; if the walls were pushed in, the roof would be unsupported at one edge and would fall). However, when the pattern of all night alerts became established, it was realised that in winter Anderson shelters were cold damp holes in the ground and often flooded in wet weather, and so their occupancy factor would be poor. This led to the development of the indoor Morrison shelter (Baker 1978).

    A picture here:
    Ordinarily, I trust Wikipedia about as far as I can kick them up a chimney, but when they are dealing with “just the facts, ma’am” they seem at least reasonably trustworthy.
    Don’t think I’ll go dig a hole just now . . . we live very close to a large river and the water table is within a foot or so of the surface. Now if we wanted a swimming pool . . . !

  27. pelerin says:

    Thanks American Mother – a good picture of the shelter. Some can still be seen on allotments being used as sheds. The link given above by mamosco giving the trajectory now says ‘Servers too busy – try again later’ when I checked to see. I’m obviously not the only one eager to plan my day! Good luck!

  28. AnAmericanMother says:

    The server is still overloaded.
    According to Space Weather, if the Bus survives until tomorrow (GMT) it will pass RIGHT OVER our house (or at least our ZIP code – almost directly overhead).
    I did manage to find my kayaking helmet!

  29. Patti Day says:

    NASA Statement:
    Sat, 24 Sep 2011 03:16:50 AM EDT

    NASA’s decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. EDT Sept. 24. The satellite was passing eastward over Canada and Africa as well as vast portions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans during that period. The precise re-entry time and location are not yet known with certainty.

    Thud, It’s all over.

  30. bookworm says:

    There were some unconfirmed Twitter reports of debris falling near the town of Okotoks, south of Calgary in western Canada.

  31. pelerin says:

    And there we were worried on the South Coast of England! They did say the landing area could be within 6,OOO miles or so. We did not need our helmets here after all. I am so glad that it does not look as if anyone got hit by the debris.

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