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Space Junk to Fall, But Don't Panic

There is a 1-in-3,200 chance of satellite debris hitting a person on the ground -- odds that NASA says are extremely remote.

Space junk is about to fall from the sky, but the odds that any of it will land on you are remote.

NASA experts say a 6 1/2-ton defunct satellite will plummet to Earth around Sept. 23, a day earlier than previously expected. Where it will fall is unknown, reports Space.com, which says that NASA expects at least 26 large pieces of the bus-sized satellite to survive the scorching temperatures of re-entry and reach the Earth's surface. The debris is expected to fall over a 500-mile long area.

But there's no need to panic.

There is a 1-in-3,200 chance of satellite debris hitting a person on the ground -- odds that NASA says are extremely remote. And some observers believe there's a good chance the debris will fall into the ocean.

Still, those odds are much better than your chances of, say, getting struck by lightning, which are 1 in 280,000. And even at that improbability, an average of 1,000 people get hit every year.

So wouldn't you think space trash would land on lots of people? Especially since the space around Earth is crowded with nearly 22,000 spent rocket stages, dead or dying satellites and other orbital debris. In fact, an average of one object has reentered Earth's atmosphere every day.

People have been hit, but considering the amount of junk falling from the sky, you'd expect to see news reports about people getting clunked with it all the time, wouldn't you?

Even a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building would hurt, though it is unlikely to kill you. There's an amusing video that shows a physicist running around trying to catch pennies dropped from hundreds of feet in the air. He proves the idea that the penny could be fatal is a myth. The issue is the object's shape. A pen, for example, is more aerodynamic than a penny and would travel at hundreds of miles an hour. That could really hurt somebody. A penny's descent, on the other hand, is slowed by air resistance.

As for the mystery of where the debris will land on Friday, nobody knows. Still worried? You can watch a slide show at Space.com of the worst space debris events of all time.

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