Science, Technology

Space Junk Re-Enters Earth’s Atmosphere

A bus-sized chunk of space trash fell out of the sky on Friday or Saturday, and NASA isn’t quite sure where it landed. They say it likely landed in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the United States. They are fairly certain that it didn’t cause any injuries.

The space junk was made up of fragments of a 6.3 tonne satellite that is no longer in use.

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) was sent into space in 1991 and hasn’t been used since 2005. Its job was to collect information about chemicals in the atmosphere.

As many as 26 pieces of the satellite weighing up to 135 kilograms likely survived re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Most fragments burned up before reaching earth.

NASA was tracking the satellite fragments, but the pieces began tumbling, making their flight pattern irregular and hard to track.

NASA had predicted the debris would land in the ocean or somewhere in Canada or Africa.

Pilots and flight crews on airplanes were asked to report any sightings of space junk. NASA did not receive any reports of sightings or of injuries. A video was published on Twitter of falling debris supposedly seen just south of Calgary. However, the RCMP said the video was likely a hoax. One police sergeant told The Canadian Press, “If that video is real, I will buy you a cup of coffee.”

In the 50-year history of the space program, no one has ever been injured from space debris re-entering the atmosphere, said Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at NASA.

An organization in California works around the clock finding, identifying and tracking all man-made objects that are orbiting the Earth, including the UARS.

Space debris – from old rockets and satellites – falls to Earth all the time, but this space chunk was the largest one that has returned since Skylab crashed down in Australia in 1979.

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
The UARS is only one of the many man-made objects orbiting the Earth.  The UARS was designed to collect and track information about chemicals in the atmosphere.  What do you think the other man-made objects are used for?

Reading Prompt
This story is one that is being covered by many newspapers, television news programs and magazines.
When news reporters read the news each day on the radio or on television, they read with expression and confidence.  They also adjust their reading speed so the people listening can understand the story.
Read this article out loud to a partner and pretend you are a news reporter.  Make sure you add expression in your voice and change the speed of your reading when appropriate.

Junior and Intermediate
Read appropriate texts with expression and confidence, adjusting reading strategies and reading rate to match the form and purpose (OME, Reading: 3.3).

Grammar Feature: Synonyms
Synonyms are different words with identical or similar meanings.
Find all of the synonyms for ‘junk’ in the article.
Write down five synonyms for each of the following words: kind, funny, scary, mean.