There's even a small chance it could hit people on the way down.
A decades-old NASA satellite is about to plummet back down to Earth — and there's a non-zero chance it could hit somebody on the surface below.
Nearly 21 years after it was launched in 2002, NASA's retired Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) spacecraft — a satellite that observed solar flares and coronal mass ejections — is expected to reenter the Earth's atmosphere this month, according to NASA.
While RHESSI was decommissioned back in 2018, it's only now expected to crash back down to Earth. And in case you're wondering if the falling space debris might hit you on the head, the chances are extremely slim — but technically not zero.
"NASA expects most of the spacecraft to burn up as it travels through the atmosphere, but some components are expected to survive reentry," reads NASA's statement. "The risk of harm coming to anyone on Earth is low — approximately 1 in 2,467."
As NASA explained in its statement, the satellite "provided vital clues" about solar flares and coronal mass ejections, events that "release the energy equivalent of billions of megatons of TNT into the solar atmosphere within minutes and can have effects on Earth, including the disruption of electrical systems."
With the help of RHESSI, scientists also discovered that terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, which are emitted in our planet's atmosphere during lightning storms, are more common than previously thought.
But alas, despite all of its efforts, NASA had to retire the satellite after 16 years of service due to communications issues.
In short, RHESSI made some considerable contributions to our understanding of solar flares — and we salute it for its efforts.
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