An out of control Chinese rocket re-entered the earth and frightened everyone who saw it plummeting down to the ground. This wasn’t the first time space debris boomeranged back to earth, in fact the event before actually happened only a year ago, again, another Chinese rocket debris.
So how often does space debris like this fall to earth? Not many debris pieces actually reach the surface of earth because most pieces will burn up in the earth’s atmosphere. However, larger pieces, like the one that recently fell, can reach the surface of the earth. According to CNN, one of the largest pieces passed over Los Angeles and Central Park in New York City and landed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2020. The debris weighed nearly 20 tons and it was the empty core stage of a Chinese rocket. This was the fourth biggest piece ever that came back to earth. Also, debris hitting the earth’s surface doesn’t happen very regularly because most space agencies try to avoid leaving relatively large objects in space that can potentially become a dangerous debris that hits earth. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University said, “Norms have been established … There’s no international law or rule — nothing specific — but the practice of countries around the world has been: ‘Yeah, for the bigger rockets, let’s not leave our trash in orbit in this way.’”
There are a lot of debris floating around space. According to CNN there are more than 9,000 tons of space junk, which is equivalent to the weight of 720 school buses. This means that there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of objects uncontrollably whirling around earth. It isn’t really risky for those on the earth’s surface, but the threats are real when it comes to active satellites such as weather tracking, studying the Earth’s climate, and providing telecom services. “Just a few years ago, we had about a thousand working satellites in orbit, and now we have over 4,000,” McDowell said. “We talk about the space age and we think about the 1960s, but this is really the space age starting now.”
This year, China took their chances and stated that their space debris was not going to hit any land. They were taking chances because nearly 70% of the earth is not land. In the end, it did land in water, but no one can locate the debris as of now.