Mysterious space debris will fall on Earth on November 13, at around 6:20 UTC, it has been announced.
It appears that the unidentified flying object, which was named WT1190F by researchers, will plunge into the Indian Ocean, about 62 miles south from the coast of Sri Lanka.
It is estimated that the fragment is around 3 to 7 feet in size, with a low density and more likely than not hollow inside.
Although the source of the debris hasn’t been clearly identified, it is expected that the strange flying mass is actually part of a rocket body. Alternatively, it could have come from one of NASA’s Apollo moon missions in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Either way, it appears that the object might have been on a highly elliptical path around our planet for decades. In fact, it might be “a lost piece of space history that’s come back to haunt us”, according to experts.
The mysterious junk was initially detected by a telescope in early October, at the Catalina Sky Survey, an astronomic laboratory whose aim is to identify near-Earth objects (NEOs), including asteroids and comets.
Ever since its discovery, researchers have been studying its course carefully, and are certain regarding the place of the future impact. According to predictions, most of the object will burn upon entering Earth’s atmosphere, while the remains will tumble into the water.
“It’s coming in fast and will get very hot – it’s possible a few dense parts of say a rocket engine will survive to impact the ocean”, declared Jonathan McDowell, astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Space debris falling on our planet isn’t actually something exceptionally rare. In fact, around 500,000 pieces of junk larger than a marble, and 20,000 objects bigger than a softball orbit the Earth, and some of these fragments eventually reach surface every year.
While most of these particles tend to burn upon atmosphere entry, given that temperatures can be as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, some pieces can actually remain intact, posing significant danger for aviation.
For example, a devastating collision almost occurred in March 2007, between wreckage from Russian Progress 23P cargo spacecraft and a passenger plane. The Airbus A340 had departed from Santiago, Chile, to Auckland, Zealand and there were 270 people on board.
Only 35 seconds saved the aircraft from colliding with debris from the ship, which was headed towards the Pacific Ocean at speeds exceeding the speed of sound.
While the presence of space junk isn’t therefore something unheard of, what makes WT1190F so special is that this object was identified long before it actually hit Earth.
This has given researchers the chance to analyze its trajectory and also to test the effectiveness of their emergency procedures related to dangerous asteroid impacts.
Scientists believe this small fragment won’t cause any damage once it collides with Earth, since it’s already very small, and most of it will be destroyed when entering atmosphere.
However, astronomy software developer Bill Gray has humorously said he wouldn’t exactly wish to be fishing underneath this object when it plunges into the ocean.
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