Armchair satellite trackers hoping to catch a glimpse of NASA's doomed Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite when it plunges back to Earth on Friday will need patience, access to the Internet, a clear sky, and a large helping of luck, experts say.
Even with last-minute updates from NASA and U.S. Strategic Command pinpointing when and where UARS will begin its final plunge, the sheer size of the planet, with its vast stretches of ocean and remote terrain, means the odds of catching a glimpse of the spacecraft's fiery demise--or of being anywhere near any falling debris--will be remote.
But as re-entry footage of the old Russian Mir space station and the more recent flaming fall of a European cargo craft show, satellite "decays" offer the public and experienced amateurs alike a chance to witness a fairly spectacular show.
The UARS re-entry "is nothing to be particularly worried about, and if you're very lucky and in the right place at the right time, you may see quite a nice little fireworks show from it. But it's highly improbable that you'll get even that much out of it," said Ted Molczan, a well-known satellite watcher whose computer analysis and predictions have helped sophisticated hobbyists around the world track down spy satellites and other challenging targets.
"You have to maintain reasonable expectations. And in this case, the right expectation is, 'I'm not going to see this.' On the other hand, if you stop there it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So you do want to see it, you know you won't, but (if you make the effort) you might!"… Read more