Kosmos 482, a failed space probe launched by the Soviet Union in the 70s, is falling back to Earth after five decades in orbit.
While most of the craft will likely burn during its descent into the atmosphere, experts warned that the lander, which is designed to survive the harsh environment of Venus, will likely survive the reentry and fall back into the ground.
A Soviet-Era Spacecraft To Come Crashing Down To Earth
According to Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the craft might reenter the Earth's atmosphere between sometime this year and late 2020s.
"Every time it goes around the Earth, it loses a little bit of speed and doesn't go up as high next time," he explained. "Eventually, the orbit will become too low."
Kosmos 482 is the sister craft of the more successful Venera 8, the second space probe ever to land on the surface of Venus. Both were launched from Kazakhstan in March 1972, with Venera 8 going up four days earlier.
Venera 8 arrived at Venus in July 1972 after a 117-day journey in space. The probe managed to land and beam back data for 63 minutes before succumbing in the harsh environment of the planet.
However, the Kosmos 482 experienced an engine malfunction, failing to propel the probe toward Venus. As a result, the craft was locked into orbit around Earth for several decades.
What Happens When Kosmos 482 Finally Descends
Kosmos 482 is built to withstand the insane temperature of Venus, the second planet from the sun. According to NASA, the thick atmosphere of Venus, which consists mainly of carbon dioxide, traps the heat of the sun, causing temperature on the surface to rise higher than 470 degrees Celsius.
"Yes, the descent craft will survive a reentry with no problems," said Thomas Dorman, a satellite watcher. "It would be funny if it was spotted coming down and the parachute has deployed ... but I am sure the batteries to fire the pyrotechnics to release the parachute have died long ago!"
The probe is currently in orbit around Earth with a speed of about 17,000 miles per hour. It makes one lap around the planet every 112 minutes.
This means that it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly where the probe will descend. However, McDowell said that the lander, which will survive reentry, will likely plunge into the ocean or crash into unoccupied land within about 4,000 miles of either side of the equator.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that about 200 to 400 space debris fall back into the Earth's atmosphere every year, but humans are generally unaffected because populations occupy a small percentage of the planet's surface area.
Only one person has been hit by falling space debris in history: Lottie Williams, a woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1997, she was struck by a piece of a disintegrating rocket on the shoulder while on a stroll in a park. She walked away from the event with no serious injury.