An astronomer managed to capture China’s out-of-control space station as it hurtles closer to hitting the earth’s surface.
The stunning image shows the Tiangong-1 station crossing in front of some of the brightest known constellations earlier this month.
Astronomer Gianluca Masi, who is part of the Virtual Telescope Project, shot the photo of the spacecraft in Rome on March 9.
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The stunning image shows the Tiangong-1 station (circled in red) crossing in front of some of the brightest known constellations. Astronomer Gianluca Masi managed to capture Tiangong, along with the Orion, Auriga, and Taurus constellations
Tiangong-1 can be seen as a long, white streak of light on the right side of the photo.
It passes in front of a sparkling backdrop of stars and the Orion, Auriga and Taurus constellations, according to Masi.
The space station was approximately ’74 degrees above the horizon, safe from huge light pollution contamination, and placing the spaceship in a very interesting spot of the sky,’ he said.
‘At some point, as expected, the Tiangong-1 disappeared, jumping into the shadow of the earth,’ Masi explained.
If you missed Tiangong-1’s surprise cameo in the night sky, you’re in luck.
As Masi pointed out, the station will be visible in certain areas on March 18, 19 and 20.
It will appear brightest for a fleeting moment on March 18 at 7:29pm (EST), before disappearing just after 7:30pm (EST).
The Tiangong-1 space station (artist’s impression), which is hurtling towards Earth carrying a ‘highly toxic chemical’, will likely hit sometime between March 29 and April 9
Website Satflare has calculated odds of re-entry in March (20 per cent), in April (60 per cent) and in May 2018 (20 per cent)
Experts from the European Space Agency (ESA), based in Paris, are among those tracking Tiangong-1, which means ‘heavenly place.’
It is believed that Tiangong-1 will come crashing back to the planet around April 3, according to experts.
The exact window of reentry is expected to be between March 17 and April 21, which is narrower than previous estimates of between March 24 and April 19.
Exactly where it will hit is slightly harder to predict, although experts agree it will be somewhere between latitudes of 43° north and 43° south.
US research organization Aerospace Corporation revealed that parts of southern Lower Michigan are among the regions that have the highest probability of being hit by falling debris.
WHAT IS THE TIANGONG-1 SPACE STATION?
The vehicle is 10.4 metres long and has a main diameter of 3.35 metres. It has a liftoff mass of 8,506 kilograms and provides 15 cubic metres of pressurised volume
Tiangong-1 is China’s first Space Station Module.
The vehicle was the nation’s first step towards its ultimate goal of developing, building, and operating a large Space Station as a permanent human presence in Low Earth Orbit.
The module was launched on September 29, 2012.
Tiangong-1 features flight-proven components of Chinese Shenzhou Spacecraft as well as new technology.
The module consists of three sections: the aft service module, a transition section and the habitable orbital module.
The vehicle is 10.4 metres long and has a main diameter of 3.35 metres.
It has a liftoff mass of 8,506 kilograms and provides 15 cubic metres of pressurized volume.
Northern China, central Italy, northern Spain, the Middle East, New Zealand, Tasmania, South America, southern Africa, and northern states in the United States have been identified as the regions with higher chances.
However, agencies will only know the exact date, location and degree to which Tiangong-1’s debris will impact earth during the final weeks of its decline.
Masi stated.he hopes the Tiangong-1 spacecraft will be destroyed completely before reentering earth’s atmosphere.
Until then, he noted that we will only have a few more chances to see the station as it continues on a collision course with earth.
‘The Tiangong-1 Chinese space station is moving along a decaying orbit,’ Masi explained.
The Chinese space agency has been tracking the space station (pictured before it was launched in 2011), and vowed to issue warnings if there are any potential collisions imminent. But not everybody is convinced by this
‘It should re-enter our atmosphere in the next few weeks, so we have just a few more chances to observe it’
‘Some surviving debris could fall to earth’s surface, with large uncertainties as for the exact location’ he added.
The 8.5-ton craft, which has been headed towards earth since control was lost in 2016, is believed to contain a rocket fuel called hydrazine and is pretty dense, according to the Verge.
‘It’s got a lot of heavy equipment, so it’s not like a rocket stage that’s a big empty tank,’ Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard and spaceflight expert, told the Verge.
‘People are worried more [about if] it might reach the ground,’ he added.
McDowell also pointed out that it’s not uncommon for space debris to come crashing down to earth, noting that fragmented from a similar-sized rocket landed in Peru in January.