The ROSAT X-ray observatory, launched in 1990 by NASA and managed for years by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), will return to Earth within the next two
weeks. Current best estimates place the re-entry between Oct. 22nd and 24th over
an unknown part of Earth. ROSAT will produce a spectacular fireball when it
re-enters, but not all of the satellite will disintegrate. According to the DLR, heat-resistant fragments as massive as 1.7 tons could reach Earth’s surface.
Note: Solar activity has strongly affected ROSAT’s decay. Only a few months ago, experts expected the satellite to re-enter in December. However, they did not anticipate the recent increase in sunspot count. Extreme ultraviolet radiation from sunspots has heated and “puffed up” Earth’s atmosphere, accelerating the rate of orbital decay. The massive observatory now has a date with its home planet in October.