China's first prototype space station, Tiangong 1, has given up after six years of remarkable service. Launched in 2011, the spacecraft had been sent as a medium to set up a larger and more permanent Chinese haven in space. Now, it has almost lost its life and is on the verge of hurtling back towards Earth. Will the Chinese beacon become a medium of destruction?
The spacecraft has been out of Chinese control since September 2016 and is expected to land on Earth by January or February 2018. Though most of its components should burn out while entering the atmosphere, there is still a real possibility of it hitting a city and causing widespread destruction.
With the craft close to falling on Earth, the European Space Agency has provided a list of countries which come under radar facing the danger. Going by the latitudes, the countries at risk seem to be Italy, Spain, Turkey, India and Saudi Arabia. In another opinion by experts, highly populated cities of New York, Los Angeles, Beijing, Rome, Istanbul and Tokyo are the most-threatened.
According to ESA predictions, the spacecraft will make "uncontrolled re-entry" into the Earth's atmosphere early in 2018. The agency is setting up an international campaign to monitor Tiangong 1's fall as the craft is currently about 300 kilometers or 186 miles above earth in a rapidly decaying orbit.
"Owing to the geometry of the station's orbit, we can already exclude the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43°N or further south than 43°S," says Holger Krag, head of ESA's Space Debris Office, as reported by Daily Mail. The danger zone includes major cities, which if hit, can lead to massive loss of life and property.
As Tiangong 1's term in space is coming to an end, here's a video on its launch into orbit.
The spacecraft is now hovering over Earth in a perilous state. But the question remains-- which city will it hit when it finally falls? And do human beings stand a chance of protecting themselves from flaming debris of an 8.5-tonne spacecraft?