Researchers warn that WT1190F, a piece of debris orbiting the Earth, will smash into the water off Sri Lanka on November 13.
There are untold amounts of space junk orbiting the Earth in the upper atmosphere, and occasionally it will drop down and crash into the planet’s surface. According to a report from Nature, astronomers are preparing for the next impact, which is slated to land off of Sri Lanka on November 13.
Researchers have calculated that WT1190F, the aptly named piece of space junk will crash down to Earth and land in the Indian Ocean on the thirteenth of November, making it one of the few objects in space that has a calculable landing time. WT1190F was lost by astronomers years ago, but was positively identified by a telescope this October. It orbits far beyond the moon.
According to Gerhard Drolshagen, the co-manager of the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object office in Noordwijk, Netherlands, researchers are gathering to follow the debris’ path down to Earth’s surface. The event will provide researchers with an opportunity to study debris floating throughout the solar system, but will also be the first test for a method of organizing and planning should a larger, unexpected object make a beeline for Earth.
WT1190F was discovered as a part of the Catalina Sky Survey, an ongoing research project that scans the skies for asteroids making their way towards Earth. Scientists working with the Catalina Sky Survey were perplexed by the incoming piece of space junk, but were able to quickly calculate its path by collecting observations about its speed, orientation, and size from sightings in 2012 and 2013.
The object follows a highly elliptical orbital path, which would explain why it is difficult to see most of the time. It swings out roughly twice the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Scientists calculate that the object will slam into Earth at 6:20 UTC, landing roughly 65 miles south of the tip of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean.
It is only 1 to 2 meters in size, and scientists believe the object may be hollow. According to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the object could be a piece of a past space mission that has come back to make another appearance on Earth. It is possibly a spent rocket shell or a shed from a recent mission to the moon. It’s likely that the debris dates back many years, even to the Apollo era.
Most objects floating in space burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere before they ever reach the surface, but WT1190F is unique. Funding for tracking orbiting objects that aren’t asteroids is seriously lacking, but we may find that keeping tabs on the trash we leave behind in space turns out to be a good idea.