Strange Satellite Craze

The NASA satellite re-entering earth orbit late Friday has caused a sensation for some strange reason. Maybe because people have heard that it is 6 tons, about the weight of a mail truck, or because of the danger that someone might be hit by it.

But the six or seven tons won’t stay together. Most components will break up and burn up in the atmosphere. Really hard metals might survive to hit earth. They will be scattered.

The risk to you as an individual human being of being hit by this satellite debris is one in 20 trillion.

The odds of an American being struck by lightning in any given year are roughly one in a million.

So it is twenty million times more likely that you will be struck by lightning than that you will be hit by a piece of debris from this satellite.

The Telegraph has video:

In other words, worry about something else.

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Responses | Print |

15 Responses

  1. a “mail truck” in which part of the world… when you say “america” which part of the continents?

  2. Juan, when you say “The odds of an American being struck by lightning in any given year are roughly one in a million,” I hope you mean “any individual American.” If that’s what you mean (and it would mean that approximately 300 Americans are hit struck by lightning every year, not implausible), then what you meant is OK. But if you meant “any random American,” then the two figures aren’t compatible.

  3. “In other words, worry about something else.”

    Agreed. This isn’t the same as Skylab’s re-entry thirty years ago.

    Once again, it’s more media hype/scaring the s@#! out of you for no decent reason whatsoever.

  4. “The risk to you as an individual human being of being hit by this satellite debris is one in 20 trillion.”

    Actually, that’s if the satellite fragments are equally likely to hit any place on the earth. In fact, they are projected to come down within a roughly 500 mile long band.

    For any folks within that band, the odds of getting hit are many orders of magnitude (that is, factors of 10) higher.

    Before getting out your armored umbrella, however, note that NASA is saying that North America will be spared.

  5. Okay, how’s this? I’m worried about the Pakistani nukes, given that there is no civilian control of the military, the military is full of religious fanatics, and the country generally is not very stable.

    Not necessarily speaking for myself with the above, but do you think people should be worried?

  6. The NPR reporting on this kept saying they (NASA?) had calculated that there was a 1 in 3000 chance of someone getting hit. I think they meant there was a 1 in 3000 chance that a single person out of all the people on the earth would get hit, but it sounded a lot like they meant each person had a 1 in 3000 chance of being hit, which would be really high. Perhaps the presentation of the statistic is how this became a big story.

  7. My concern would not be getting hit by debris, but rather contamination of a populated area by toxic beryllium contained in this satellite.

    • Interesting point. Not many people know about the extreme toxicity of beryllium. How much is there, anyway, and what components of the satellite is it in?

  8. I think this psychological reaction is an example of Alvin Toffler’s “future shock”. People become more and more dependent on technology, but have less and less understanding of it. In this case, we seize on threats that our primitive brains can visualize (rock on head bad) regardless of the odds, and transfer to it our fears about technological problems we really don’t understand or are too spoiled to make sacrifices to reverse. It’s also been shown that fear has little to do with statistical probability; we fear the big boom more than the silent poison.

  9. Last weekend the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio 1 news was reporting that the odds of being hit by a piece of this satellite was 1:3100
    I have no idea what they were smoking, but they kept repeating it all weekend.

  10. Does nobody remember the panic after China used a missile to demolish one of their satellites a few years ago? Suddenly there was a US satellite careening towards earth that the US said was necessary to blow up because of the danger to mankind from falling debris. They used an Aegis cruiser to launch a modified missile to demolish it. This time, with a bigger satellite, for some reason it’s not so important. Draw your own conclusions…

  11. I heard that the chances that one of the 7 billion people on earth gets hit is one in 3200. Nasa brought this to our attention because their standard is to keep the odds at no worse than 1 in 10,000. So the odds are 3 times what is routine. Chances are it’ll go into the ocean. It is ,however, absolutely certain that someone will win the lotery this year. Remember, if you don’t play, you can’t win.

    • you’re leaving out a step. The chances that it will hit a human being are different than the chances that it will hit a *particular* human being, i.e. you). That chance is 1 in 20 trillion.

      • Right. You multiply the odds of someone getting hit (1 in 3200) by the number of people (7 billion) and you get about 20 trillion.

  12. Oh anything to distract us from the real tragedy of the supplicants at the UN.

    The thing finally landed in the Pacific somewhere near Canada.

    Some unfortunate fish got a terrible fright!

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