Reminder: ROSAT's coming down soon

By Phil Plait | October 18, 2011 10:30 am

Last month, after the UARS satellite burned up over the Pacific, I mentioned that the German Astronomical satellite ROSAT will be burning up soon as well. It’s looking that will happen next week, with some models pointing to October 23rd. The exact time and even the date are still a bit uncertain, because it’s impossible to perfectly model the incredibly complex interaction between the satellite and the very thin atmosphere hundreds of kilometer up.

Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society Blog has a nice write up of this, as does Dan Vergano at USA Today (featuring a quote by me, of all people, from that post last month). I imagine Space Weather will have info too as it comes out.

There’s a ROSAT Twitter stream with fairly up-to-date information as well. I’ll be paying attention to that carefully.

Just to be clear, I’ll state that even though more pieces of this satellite will survive re-entry than UARS did, the odds of anyone getting hit by a piece are still many thousands to one against, and of any particular person getting hit (meaning you) are trillions to one against. So while I don’t want satellites to fall from the sky every day, I’m not too concerned over this one.


Comments (9)

  1. Blargh

    Looks like I’m far enough north to avoid this one!
    Sadly, it looks like it also passes too far south of France for Thierry Legault to shoot any awesome photos of this one.

  2. Ribert

    I thought I had read that satellites launched nowadays had in-built systems to either boost the craft to high orbits or to provide a controlled deorbit when service life ended. ROSAT is apparently uncontrolled. Does anyone know if there are any other large satellites still in orbit that lack the controlled deorbit/orbit boost capabilities?

  3. I photographed ROSAT passing over my observatory a few days ago:

    During zenith passes in twilight it is quite bright (+1): during low passes it is more difficult to see, especially when still ascending in the west (when illumination conditions are poor).

    It is very fast, result of it being already quite low above the earth.

  4. Ian S

    Oh joy, let me line up the chinese lantern movies again, no doubt we will need to debunk more silly movies claiming to show the satellite re entry…

  5. @ ^ Ian S. : Well, I guess there’s the possibility of a real video capturing ROSAT’s re-entry appearing somewhere but the odds are greatly against it.

    My prediction is the same as last time – it will probably come down over the ocean and vanish unseen. It’d be neat if ROSAT’s fiery demise was witnessed and I’d be delighted to be proven wrong though. Provided it didn’t actually hit anyone, natch, but I’d worry far more about being eaten by a shark, hit by lightning or killed by an angry capybara than hit by this artificial meteorite! ūüėČ


    “If it [ROSAT] hit you on the head you’d know about it, but never in the history of any satellite coming down has anybody on earth been injured by one.”
    – NASA tracking station spokesman Glen Nagle.

    Source : ABC (Aussie) online news item linked to my name.

  6. Dragonchild

    The people who tend to panic often forget that the Earth’s surface is mostly covered in water, and even among land, people tend to cluster. So the actual target areas where these falling satellites can do any damage are understandably small.

    People tend to think things happen where they are. For perspective, I liken getting hit by a satellite to having my car T-boned. . . if I was driving in a flat part of Death Valley at 3AM.

  7. Alan(UK)

    Actually ROSAT was much more interesting alive than dead. There is much more to the electromagnetic spectrum than Hubble can cover. ROSAT covered 62eV to 2.5keV (200nm – 5nm) extreme UV and soft X-rays.

    Pretty pictures start at:

    The image of the moon in X-rays (see Solar System/The Moon) is a classic.


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