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1-in-3,200 chance* that a fiery satellite chunk will hit someone on Friday

Defunct climate probe to make dramatic re-entry

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Small fiery pieces of what was once a climate-monitoring satellite will hurtle towards the Earth's surface this Friday.

Unless you live in Greenland, Siberia or Antarctica, watch out for dazzling lights in the sky as red-hot lumps of NASA-grade aluminium descend upon our planet.

The space agency predicts that the debris from the 20-year-old Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) has a 1-in-3,200 chance of hitting a person, a scenario they consider "extremely remote". It is mostly likely the expensive shards will plummet into the sea, NASA said.

Sadly, if you do manage to catch a chunk of satellite, the US government expressly forbids you from selling it on eBay. The smouldering lump will remain the property of the United States and must be turned over to local police.

Most of the 6.5-tonne craft will burn up in the Earth's atmosphere, but NASA debris experts say that at least 26 large pieces of the satellite will survive the scorching temperatures of atmospheric re-entry.

And they could land anywhere between the latitudes of Northern Canada and southern South America – an area comprising most of the world.

The climate taster has been orbiting the Earth, sampling the ozone layer and chemical compounds in the upper atmosphere. When the $750m UARS satellite was launched in 1991, NASA intended it to last for three years. But it kept going until 2005 when NASA ordered the satellite to burn its remaining fuel and prepare for a suicide dive to Earth.

The last of its fuel is now gone, and the UARS has been gradually pulled closer to Earth. Some recent solar activity has also advanced its descent. This activity can cause the Earth's atmosphere to heat and expand, increasing drag on spacecraft. ®

* This means that the odds that you will be hit by debris are just 1-in-21 trillion, NASA said, since there are about 7 billion people on Earth.

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