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Mysterious Space Debris (WT1190F) Falling On Earth In November

Scientists expect a mysterious piece of space debris to hit our planet on November 13. Named WT1190F, it will apparently land off the coast of Sri Lanka.

space debris

Distribution of space debris around the Earth. Photo credits: ESA.

WT1190F is most probably artificial in origin. Researchers do not yet have a clear idea of its make-up. Its presence was detected by the Catalina Sky Survey of the University of Tucson.

“It’s a lost piece of space history that’s come back to haunt us,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement to Nature.

When astronomers consulted the lab’s database of telescope images, they found that WT1190F was present since at least 2012.

They then calculated its orbit. It has been orbiting the Earth on a trajectory further than the Moon’s.

The researchers speculate it is a product of man – space debris.

“To fit the solar radiation pressure effects on its orbit you need to assume a high area-to-mass ratio – implying the thing is hollow, like an empty rocket stage would be,” McDowell told Popular Mechanics.

“So it has the right size and properties, and it is in an orbit which would be surprising for a natural object (whizzing around the Earth-Moon system) but where we know there are a bunch of pieces of space junk.”

Some astrophysicists think it might be a remnant of the Apollo missions. Will we ever know? Apparently, we won’t, because the moment WT1190F enters the atmosphere, it is likely that it will burn up and fall onto a remote place.

“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,” said McDowell.

This is be the first time space debris returning to the Earth is being tracked. Meanwhile, several others are floating around our planet.


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