You might want to stay inside today, folks, because there's some space junk the size of a Buick set to reenter Earth's atmosphere and land, well, somewhere later today. After the spectacular disintegration of the Jules Verne earlier this year, this is the second time our earthbound space agencies have purposefully burned something up in the atmosphere. The trouble is, the Verne was carefully controlled and tracked by two planes (hence, the spectacular video). When this puppy breaks up in the atmo, at least 15 chunks of ammonia-soaked metal and other space station goodness are going to reach the surface. "If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn't get too close to it," said a NASA spokesman.
Known as the Early Ammonia Servicer, or EAS, the tank was tossed overboard more than a year ago by NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, during a July 2007 spacewalk. It is the largest piece of junk ever tossed overboard from the ISS, and yes, you read that right. An astronaut threw a 1,400-pound tank of toxic ammonia coolant into the void, on purpose—but it's not as crazy as it sounds (we think). The tank was made obsolete by recent ISS repairs, and the ammonia-filled vessel was deemed too dangerous for a shuttle ride home. Tossing was the only option.
"As a matter of course, we don't throw things overboard haphazardly," said Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program. "We have a policy that has certain criteria we have to meet before you can throw something overboard."
Still, if you find a glowing chunk of space waste in your backyard this evening, please call local authorities. People outside the U.S. are encouraged to call the U.S. Department of State via diplomatic channels. And don't touch anything!