Published 03-11-2015

HUNK OF SPACE JUNK EXPECTED TO FALL TO EARTH THIS MONTH

03-11-2015

A rogue piece of space junk will hit Earth on November 13, falling into the Indian Ocean about 65km off the southern tip of Sri Lanka, say scientists.

Dubbed WT1190F, the curious object was rediscovered recently after scientists had lost track of its orbit far beyond the Moon.

The space debris, measuring between 1-2m long, is on a collision course with earth and is due to land at 6.20am (Universal Coordinated Time).

The event presents a rare opportunity for scientists to watch the entire impact event from beginning to end.

Detected by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in the US a few weeks ago, WT1190F’s trajectory has been calculated based on 2012 and 2013 sightings found in old telescope archives.

According to a recent report in Nature News, it travels a highly elliptical orbit, swinging out twice as far as the Earth-Moon distance, its movements suggesting that it’s low-density enough to be hollow on the inside.

"It could be a spent rocket stage or paneling shed by a recent Moon mission," says Nature News.

"It is also possible that the debris dates back decades, perhaps even to the Apollo era. “An object seen orbiting the Earth in 2002 was eventually determined to be a discarded segment of the Saturn V rocket that launched the first men to land on the Moon."

Surprisingly, if scientists do determine that the debris was made by man and launched into space only to get separated and lost for several years, it will be the first known instance of our own space “junk” returning home.

Most, if not all, of the object is expected to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, and whatever’s left will hurtle into the Indian Ocean.

While there likely won’t be much of WT1190F left at this point, independent astronomy software developer Bill Gray, who’s been working with NASA to track the object, pointed out that: "I would not necessarily want to be going fishing directly underneath it."

While the impact is not expected to garner much of the world's attention, the scientists involved are certainly grateful for the opportunity to test out the global networks they've put in place for tracking much larger, more threatening cosmic visitors.

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