An unmanned, uncontrolled Chinese space station is hurtling toward Earth and will probably come crashing through the atmosphere sometime this weekend, experts say. California, and therefore San Luis Obispo County, could get hit with some debris — though the chances are small. Probably.
According to the federally-funded Aerospace Corporation, the station is predicted to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere sometime between midday on March 31 and early afternoon on April 1.
The station, known as Heavenly Palace or Tiangong-1, was launched on Sept. 30, 2011. China stopped receiving data from the station in 2016, which means it could be flying blind.
Don't fear: Though the space station is 34 feet long and weighs about 9 tons, it will most likely burn up in the atmosphere as it crashes. Any bits that survive are projected to scatter along a path predicted to be about 1,240 miles long by 43 miles wide, according to Space.com. That's a small strip, and most of the debris would likely fall on the ocean, Space.com reported.
The European Space Agency released a map of the area where debris could potentially fall — and it is large, covering much of the United States, South America, Africa and other areas. California is well within that region.
"The personal probability of being hit by a piece of debris from the Tiangong-1 is actually 10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning," wrote the European Space Agency.
In fact, in decades of space exploration there is only one recorded instance of a person being struck by space debris. That happened in 1997, when Lottie Williams of Oklahoma was struck on the shoulder by a piece of metal from a disintegrating rocket.
There's even a chance the space station's re-entry could put on a visual show, if the weather conditions are right.
"Incandescent objects during this re-entry may be visible and will likely last up to a minute or more, depending on time of day, visibility conditions and the observer's location," wrote The Aerospace Corporation in a news release.
If you do happen to see a chunk of debris, experts warn people to be cautious and to not handle it. The debris should also be reported to local emergency services, who should pass the information along to NASA or the U.S. Air Force. Those authorities must then return the debris to China, Space.com said.
For the most recent updates on when Tiangong-1 is expected to crash into Earth, check the European Space Agency's website.