Conspiracy theorists may want to trade in their tinfoil hats for a helmet this weekend because an out-of-control Chinese rocket is expected to break apart in Earth's atmosphere and rain down chunks of debris somewhere on the planet.
Because 70% of the planet is water, chances are the rocket debris lands on uninhabited locations, but there's a nonzero chance that huge chunks of metal from the 100-foot-tall, 22-ton rocket does impact populated areas.
Minnesota is just north of the potential crash zone, according to The Aerospace Corporation, which has been tracking the rocket's trajectory for days and has placed its potential crash site somewhere in a massive geographic area.
In its Saturday morning projection, the potential reentry zone would be in the Atlantic Ocean, just east of the Northeast U.S. coast. You can see that in the diagram in the tweet below, with the yellow satellite icon representing the potential reentry area, and the orange circle representing where the reentry would be visible.
The Aerospace Corporation says the rocket could reenter the atmosphere plus or minus four hours on either side of 10:22 p.m. Central Time Saturday.
CNN reports that the US Space Command is tracking the rocket, though a specific reentry location can't be pinpointed until just hours before reentry. And because the rocket is traveling at approximately 18,000 mph, it's even more difficult to estimate its reentry time and point.
An astrophysicist from Harvard University told CNN that the risk of a piece of the rocket causing damage or hitting someone is "incredibly tiny," though "it could happen."
The BBC reports that a similar Chinese rocket reentered the Earth's atmosphere in 2020, with chunks of debris on the Ivory Coast of West Africa.