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Throw another shrimp on the barbee, as they say in Australia. Or do they?

Aussies on alert for deadly alien encounter as Russian Mars probe hurtles toward Earth

A failed Russian Mars probe laden with toxic fuel may soon crash land in Australia.
Space junk esa 12 23 11Enlarge
An artist's impression of the size of the debris field surrounding Earth. (European Space Agency/Screengrab)

Australians have been put on alert for a deadly alien encounter.

According to a report on News.com.au on Tuesday, a failed Russian Mars probe laden with toxic fuel may soon crash land in Australia.

A scientist quoted by the site calls the Phobos-Grunt — an 8.5 tonne spacecraft fueled by a "poisonous propellant consisting of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide" — the most toxic falling satellite. Ever.

Phobos-Grunt was supposed to land on the larger of Mars' two moons, Phobos, and gather rock samples to study back on Earth.

However, after suffering "total battery failure" in November, it's wound up hurtling toward Earth at 18,640 miles per hour instead.

And while Russia's space agency (Roscosmos) has already said the toxic fuel on board will likely burn up on re-entry, 20-30 fragments of the spacecraft — around 440 pounds worth — are expected to survive to the surface, the BBC reported earlier this month.

Optimistically, the beeb wrote that:

With more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface covered by water, the chances are that any fragments that do survive the fiery re-entry will end up in the ocean.

However, News.com.au rains on that parade, reporting that:

Phobos-Grunt is moving around Earth at an altitude between 201km and 275km, meaning it will fall anywhere between latitude 51 degrees north and latitude 51 degrees south, which encompasses all of Australia.

Reentry is reportedly expected between Jan. 6 and 9

If a piece of space junk is going to land anywhere and miss major population centers, it may as well be Australia: according to research by migration consultants ASA, 97 percent of land Down Under remains uninhabited — or virtually so — mainly due to it being uninhabitable (ie. desert). 

To put it another way, about 90 percent of the population lives in about 3 per cent of the land area, and that's mainly around the coast.

Besides which, Australia's Spaceinfo.com.au editor Jonathan Nally reportedly says the toxic stuff should burn up as the probe fell through Earth's atmosphere.

"These chemicals are just lethal, very nasty, but we should be safe from them because of the incredible heat of re-entry," he reportedly said. "After all, this stuff is meant to burn and this probe doesn't have heat shields."

Then there's this reassuring thought from Nally:

"It's orbiting at 30,000 kilometers [18,640 miles] per hour, that's traveling 10,000 kilometers [6,214 miles] every 20 minutes, so if someone's calculations are out by just 20 minutes that means where they predict the probe will fall could be [6,214 miles] out."

Who knows — Los Angeles is around 11,000 miles from Sydney, so if calculations are 40 minutes out...  You do the math.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/down-under/aliens-space-junk-russian-mars-probe-crash-land-australia-aussie

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