Doom from the sky

I was on the Channel 8 Richmond TV news last night. You can see the video here.

Since I’m apparently the only astrophysicist in the greater Richmond area, I sometimes get asked to comment on space stories. I think this is my first time on this channel; I’ve been on Channel 6 from time to time.

In this case, they wanted to talk about the UARS satellite, which is going to reenter the atmosphere in the next couple of weeks. Some pieces are predicted to survive reentry and reach the ground.

Two disappointing things about this piece:

  1. The reporter says that there’s a 1 in 3200 chance of “being hit” by the debris. This is NASA’s estimate of the chance of someone, somewhere in the world being hit. The chance of any given person (such as you) being hit is 7 billion times smaller — i.e., one in 20 trillion. I stated that in the interview, but they chose not to use that part. The way they stated it is extremely misleading.
  2. The Santa Claus line is mine.



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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

2 thoughts on “Doom from the sky”

  1. Nice santa clause line. So im a little confused. When mentioned a 1 in 3200 chance of being hit, does that mean overall with everyone human? Like theres a 1 in 3200 chance A human will be hit, or a 1 in 3200 chance each human will be hit. I want to know if I should put on my old football helmet!

  2. The 1 in 3200 is the probability that someone (unspecified) somewhere in the world will get hit. That is, there’s a 3199 / 3200 probability that no one will get hit.

    The probability that any given individual (say, for instance, you) will get hit is roughly 1/7000000000 of this, since there are 7 billion people in the world. That’s about 1 in 20 trillion.

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