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The Sky Is Falling!

10-21-11 WinterRisingStarscape_Chumack
Winter constellations such as Orion are rising in the late evening. Credit: John Chumack

This weekend is both the peak of the Orionid meteor shower and the chance to see yet another satellite come crashing back to Earth in flames.

First up is the Orionid meteor shower, which is dust and debris leftover from the passage of Halley’s comet. These meteors appear between October 16 and 26, but the majority of meteors can be seen overnight on Friday, October 21. Expect up to 25 meteors an hour during the shower’s peak. The meteors appear to emanate from around the constellation Orion, which rises in the east late on Friday evening.

Just last month, a NASA satellite fell to Earth in the South Pacific, but not before raising fear in some that it would come crashing down on land and cause damage and death. While the harmless satellite did not live up to the hype, a new satellite called ROSAT is again stirring fears. While the odds of being killed by this satellite are still incredibly small, they are actually larger than last month’s satellite.

ROSAT is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere sometime between Friday and Monday. This German satellite is the size of an SUV, and approximately 30 pieces of it are expected to survive the fiery reentry and reach the ground, including the large heat-resistant mirror. The German space agency has estimated the odds of it hitting someone as one in 2,000, which puts your odds of being struck by the satellite as one in 14 trillion. (If the satellite fell 2,000 times, only once would it hit someone, and with around 7 billion people on the planet, that makes your chances one in 14 trillion.)

Keep an ear open for more accurate estimates of where the satellite will fall, because seeing its fiery reentry would be an amazing show. And if it turns out it’s nowhere near your part of the world, there’s always the Orionids.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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