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In a matter of days, the sky will actually be falling. A defunct NASA atmosphere-monitoring satellite the size of a small bus is set to plunge to Earth somewhere -- and the space agency's scientists say there's no way to precisely determine where it will crash -- be it Africa or America, the Pacific Ocean or Pacific Heights.
Pinpointing where and when hurtling space debris will strike is an imprecise science. For now, scientists predict the earliest it will hit is Thursday U.S. time, the latest Saturday. The strike zone covers most of Earth. Not that citizens need to take cover. The satellite will break into pieces, and NASA put the chances that somebody somewhere will get hurt at just 1-in-3,200 -- low enough that some people are making a game of the whole thing.
The 20-year-old research satellite is expected to break into more than 100 pieces as it enters the atmosphere, most of it burning up. Twenty-six of the heaviest metal parts are expected to reach Earth, the biggest chunk weighing about 300 pounds (136 kilograms). The debris could be scattered over an area about 500 miles (800 kilometers) long.
If it happens in darkness, it should be visible. "If someone is lucky enough to be near the re-entry at nighttime, they'll get quite a show," says Matney, who works at Johnson Space Center in Houston, also in the potential strike zone.