Mar 30, 2018

Weak sun activity means a longer journey for a Chinese space station

A Long March 2F rocket carrying Tiangong-1 lifts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Photo: Lintao Zhang / Getty Images

Chinese space station Tiangong-1, will fall to Earth on April 1, later than expected, because of the weaker sun activity, Space.com reports.

What happened: Per Space.com, the sun's activity results in "charged particles" that hit Earth's atmosphere. The particles can increase gas density in space, which impacts the drag on the space station. Because the sun's activity has been weak, there have been fewer particles, and therefore weaker drag, which will make Tiangong-1 "descend more slowly than expected."

  • Jonathan McDowell, astrophysicist at Harvard University, told Live Science (sister site of Space.com) that "[f]ireballs are almost certain" as the space station falls, though he predicts "only 220 to 440 lbs...of debris" will hit Earth.
  • Per Space.com, Tiangong-1 "was the first Chinese space station."

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