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Your Chances of Getting Hit by a Falling Satellite

Updated on February 15, 2013
Greekgeek profile image

Daughter of a rocket engineer, granddaughter of a planetarium director, I've been a huge fan of astronomy and space exploration all my life.

Heads Up

NASA: UARS satellite. (Artist's Depiction)
NASA: UARS satellite. (Artist's Depiction)

1 in 3200? Uh Oh!

It's September 2011, and media outlets are spicing up a quiet news cycle with space junk. A dead satellite is coming down, and they're saying that the chances of it hitting someone, are 1 in 3200. Thanks to those massive solar flares I've mentioned before, the satellite is dragging and is scheduled to fall early. How exciting!

Now, a probability of 1 in 3200 sounds alarming. That's almost the same as the chances of my doing laundry today (somehow, I don't think my jeans are in any danger of getting wet).

Luckily, that is only the chance of someone getting hit somewhere on the Earth, not the probability of each of us getting hit by a rogue satellite in a dastardly plot by God to collect on all our life insurance policies. No, God is clearly after Uncle Bob's life insurance policy.

So, what are the chances for poor Uncle Bob?

Well, 1/3200 is the probability of any human being being struck by this particular falling satellite. The population of the Earth is nearly 7 billion. Therefore:

3200 x 7,000,000,000 = 22,400,000,000,000

So the chances of your getting struck by this particular falling satellite are 1 in 22,400,000,000,000.

Not bad, but Uncle Bob might had better wear a hard hat in case God is loading the dice.

Of course, your chances of being struck by space junk will vary somewhat according to the size, composition, and debris path, but usually we don't need to worry — at least on the ground. I'm sure the International Space Station crew would prefer there were fewer pieces of space junk floating around.

Nonetheless, I'm amazed that the probability of the UARS satellite hitting a human being on the ground is that high. 1 in 3200? The Earth is enormous! That's an awful lot of human beings coating its surface.

Humanity is starting to resemble my overflowing laundry, with Earth as the basket. Unfortunately, I am afraid the problem will fix itself as we continue to shower waste and trash all over the planet until the probability of being hit by something we've thrown away approaches 1.

Great DVD on Space Program

When We Left Earth - The NASA Missions (4-Disc Set in Limited Edition Tin)
When We Left Earth - The NASA Missions (4-Disc Set in Limited Edition Tin)
This amazing series covers the U.S. Space program from Mercury and Apollo through the triumphs and tragedies of the shuttle program. A fascinating look back, with plenty of amazing footage that you've never seen before.

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