China's defunct space lab hurtling toward Earth for re-entry

Chinese authorities say it is unlikely the nine-tonne space station will cause any damage.

While an exact location is unknown, ESA scientists say the likely zone of re-entry will be somewhere between a large swath of the Earth's surface from 43 degrees north latitude, which lies just north of Buffalo, New York, and 43 degrees south latitude, which crosses New Zealand. Despite its relatively short mission, Tiangong-1 has sent back a host of valuable data.

In a statement, Esa aid: 'The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up.

Exactly when the Tiangong space station will hit the Earth is still up in the air but scientists are tracking the station and narrowing down the time.

Predictions of Tiangong-1's most likely point of impact come from Aerospace, a USA research organisation based in El Segundo, California, that advises government and private enterprise on space flight. Areas of yellow indicate the areas with the highest probability, which includes the entire state of Pennsylvania and states in the northern tier of the U.S.

People frequently worry about falling space debris, but Scaringi said it was "unwarranted".

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. Tiangong-1, like everything else in orbit around the Earth, is speeding at about 17,000 miles per hour, circling the planet more than a dozen times a day.

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The Chinese government this week issued a warning about its Tiangong-1 space lab, which is set to plunge into our atmosphere as early as Easter Sunday.

China's chief space laboratory designer Zhu Zongpeng has denied Tiangong was out of control but hasn't provided specifics on what, if anything, China is doing to guide the craft's re-entry.

Though it has attempted to reassure the world about the spacecraft, the country still has no idea where parts of the space station will land. The Chinese space station flies over land and sea from 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south, which rules out re-entry over the United Kingdom and much of Europe.

The ESA is now predicting a narrower window of tonight to late Sunday evening.

"The overall risk to an individual from re-entering debris is extremely small compared to the other hazards we face".

Markus Dolensky, technical director of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia, said witnesses to the Tiangong-1 descent should see a "series of fireballs" streaking across the sky - provided there were no clouds.

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  • Sonia Alvarado