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NASA eyes satellite as it falls to Earth

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA scientists are doing their best to tell us where a plummeting 6-ton satellite will fall later this week. It's just that if they're off a little bit, it could mean the difference between hitting Florida or landing on New York. Or, say, Iran or India.

Pinpointing where and when hurtling space debris will strike is an imprecise science. For now, scientists predict the earliest it will hit is Thursday U.S. time, the latest Saturday. The strike zone covers most of Earth.

Not that citizens need to take cover. The satellite will break into pieces, and NASA put the chances that somebody somewhere will get hurt at just 1-in-3,200.

As far as anyone knows, falling space debris has never injured anyone. Nor has significant property damage been reported. That's because most of the planet is covered in water and there are vast regions of empty land.

If you do come across what you suspect is a satellite piece, NASA doesn't want you to pick it up. There are no toxic chemicals, the agency says, but there could be sharp edges. Also, it's government property. It's against the law to keep it as a souvenir or sell it on eBay. NASA's advice is to report it to the police.

The 20-year-old research satellite is expected to break into more than 100 pieces as it enters the atmosphere, most of it burning up. Twenty-six of the heaviest metal parts are expected to reach Earth, the biggest weighing about 300 pounds. The debris could be scattered over an area about 500 miles long. Every continent but Antarctica is in the crosshairs.

-- AP

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