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Tiangong-1 space station could crash on April 1 (no joke)


The “Heavenly Palace” will fall from the heavens at around 3:30 a.m. Pacific Time on Sunday, April Fools’ Day, give or take about 16 hours. 

Or it could be the evening before, plus or minus 14 hours.

Of course, by now you probably know the re-entry of the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 (Tiangong means heavenly palace in English) is no prank, despite all the uncertainty around the time and place of its crash landing. The 9-ton spacecraft is widely believed to be out of control and on a collision course with Earth’s atmosphere. 

Over the past day, the European Space Agency, the California-based Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) and other space junk watchers have begun to predict a more specific time when Tiangong-1 will likely break up into fireballs shooting across the sky, perhaps leaving some smaller bits to impact the surface.

CORDS has zeroed in on early April 1, while the US military’s Joint Space Operations Center predicts an earlier re-entry at 5:52 p.m. PT Saturday, March 31, with a margin of error of 14 hours.

ESA took a pass on declaring a specific time, saying instead it expects Tiangong-1 to reenter between early morning PT Saturday and Sunday Morning.

Meanwhile, satellite watcher Marco Langbroek shared the above map that gives a better idea of where the space station could come down. It’s most likely to be along the white lines. It’s important to notice that Tiangong-1 is very, very likely to come down in the ocean or somewhere rural, but there are some cities with a population over 1 million in the predicted flight path; those are indicated by red dots. 

 For more on Tiangong-1, check out everything you need to know in my earlier post and keep an eye on the sky this weekend. If you see anything, please share with me on Twitter @EricCMack.

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