The space station, roughly the size of a large school bus and former home to two crews of “taikonauts” will finally end its journey scattered across… somewhere. The estimated “target area” for where debris could fall encompasses everywhere 43 degrees north and south of the equator, which narrows it down to somewhere in the United States, or southern Europe, Asia, Australia, or South America.
If that sounds incredibly vague, that’s because it is. Still, it is far from the first time humanity has been rained on by its own space garbage. At least one satellite annually makes the same burning descent through our atmosphere, and Tiangong-1 has nothing on our very own Skylab. While Tiangong-1 may be the size of a bus, NASA’s first space station was more than seven times its mass when it sprinkled its remains across the ocean and bits of Australia in 1979.
Amateur astronomers were the first to surmise that Tiangong-1’s orbit was decaying out of control in 2016. Three months later, China confirmed their observations with an official announcement. Now that the station is returning to its terrestrial origins, the only people still worried are the ones who might unwittingly end up beneath a piece of smoldering steel.
If you are one of those worriers, fear not; your chances of being hit by any piece of space station debris, ever, are roughly one in 300 trillion. That is ten million times less than the chance of you being struck by lightning. That estimate comes courtesy of the European Space Agency, so it is almost certainly credible. Rest assured, we have almost nothing to worry about.