As you have no doubt heard, there's a giant (bus-sized, anyway) broken spy satellite that's about to fall out of the sky. You may also have heard that the US Military is so going downtown on this mofo, and is totally going to shoot it down. As early as tonight, in fact.
Why? Well, the risk of falling debris, for one. About half of the satellite's 5,000+ lbs bulk is expected to survive the fiery goodness of re-entry. But worse than falling chunks of aluminum is the satellite's load of uber-toxic hyrdazine. From Wikipedia:
Symptoms of acute exposure to high levels of hydrazine in humans may include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, headache, nausea, pulmonary edema, seizures, coma, and it can also damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. The liquid is corrosive and may produce dermatitis from skin contact in humans and animals. Effects to the lungs, liver, spleen, and thyroid have been reported in animals chronically exposed to hydrazine via inhalation. Increased incidences of lung, nasal cavity, and liver tumors have been observed in rodents exposed to hydrazine.
To wit: you don't want to be outside when it starts raining anhydrous hydrazine. To spare us these horrors, the US Navy is going to blast the satellite into the Pacific with a modified SM-3 missile. Usually, the SM-3 is used to intercept ballistic missiles as part of the USA's vaunted missile defense shield. But now, it's a-hunting satellites we will go.
Tonight at about 10:30PM EST is the first window of opportunity for the epic satellite takedown. Unfortunately, bad weather in the Pacific may delay the shot. This means Navy gunners won't have the benefit of the lunar eclipse to find their target in the night skill. Still, as the AP reports:
But the official also said no decision has been made yet to scrap the mission, and if the weather improves during the course of the day the launch could go forward. He added that other factors, including the orientation of the satellite in its polar orbit, could influence a decision on the timing of the shootdown effort.
Cool. Check back here for more updates. The USA has cleared a no-fly zone in the South Pacific through Feb. 25, so the fireworks could come any time over the next week.
UPDATE: Watch a keen animation of what the exploding satellite might actually look like. Thanks to CN for this one.
Photo: An SM-3 being launched. So very, very phallic.