PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The chance that two satellites on a possible collision course collide over Pittsburgh has increased.
What was a one in 100 chance has increased to a one in 20 chance that two satellites collide 900 km above Pittsburgh Wednesday night.
LeoLabs, which tracks space debris, first put out the alert along with a visualization of the event on Tuesday. The predicted collision is expected to happen around 6:30 to 6:40.
4/ Adjusting our calculations to account for larger object sizes (by increasing our combined Hard Body Radius from 5m to 10m), this yields an updated collision probability closer to 1 in 20.
— LeoLabs, Inc. (@LeoLabs_Space) January 29, 2020
One satellite is roughly the size of a trash can, about 10 pounds. The other is the size of a small car. They're headed straight for each other at more than 10 times the speed of a bullet.
"These are actual space ships that could collide in space. Sure they're unmanned and they've been not operational for a while," Ralph Crewe with Bulh Planetarium and Observatory, Carnegie Science Center told KDKA Tuesday.
According to LeoLabs, one of the two satellites is a decommissioned space telescope that launched in 1983, and the other is an experimental U.S. Payload that launched in 1967.
Crewe brought KDKA's cameras up to the roof at the Carnegie Science Center to talk about what this means for Pittsburghers on the ground.
"It's not guaranteed that it's going to collide, but if it does, any fragments that fall to earth are going to hit the atmosphere at tremendous speed and burn up, much like a shooting star," he says. "In fact, if you do see anything, it will look sort of like a burst of shooting stars almost."
There's no need to panic. If these satellites do collide, we're not in any trouble.
KDKA Meteorologist Ray Petelin says that if the satellites did crash and the debris did fall, it wouldn't land in Pittsburgh. He says the earth is rotating around 1,000 mph at the Equator, so Pittsburgh won't be under the debris by the time it hits the ground.
"Thankfully, it is relatively safe. Nobody on earth has any chance of taking any damage from this, so it will just be an amazing show in the sky," said Crewe.
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