ESA – D.Ducros

A Mysterious Piece of Space Junk Is Headed For Earth Tomorrow – Here’s How to Watch

We don't know what it is but we know where it's headed.

JESSICA ORWIG, BUSINESS INSIDER
13 NOV 2015
 

On Friday the 13th (or the early hours of Saturday the 14th AEST), an unlucky hunk of space junk called WT1190F will meet its end. WT1190F was first spotted on 18 February 2013, but scientists suspect that it’s been in orbit around Earth since 2009.

 

At around 1:20pm ET, the space junk will collide with Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. The point of re-entry will be over a patch of Indian Ocean about 100 km (62 miles) off the coast of Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately, only residents of the southern province of Sri Lanka will have the chance to directly see the event.

However, the online observatory Slooh plans to get some of the first observations of the object on its approach toward Earth. And they will be broadcasting the event live starting at 8am ET. We’ve provided the livestream at the end of this post.

bijunk1Credit: ESA – D.Ducros

Though experts anticipate that WT1190F poses no threat - because most, if not all, of it will burn up in the atmosphere - the Sri Lankan government is taking precautions.

On Thursday, CBCNews reported that the government had imposed temporary no-fly zones and fishing bans near the re-entry point. Here’s a map of where the object is expected to be overhead from BPEarthWatch.com:

bijunk2Credit: BPEarthWatch

Though it is nearly impossible to know what WT1190F is, the European Space Agency suspects it could be a chunk of a fuel tank that once powered a rocket to space and was then discarded.

And when it returns to Earth’s atmosphere, it could be a pretty spectacular show, according to observational astronomer for Lowell Observatory, Nicholas Moskovitz.

"Unfortunately, [the event] is right around midday, which means the sun is going to be up, but the object is probably going to get as bright as the full moon," Moskovitz told Business Insider. "So, if you’re looking in the right location … you could probably see it."

bijunk3Credit: ESA – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Even if it’s difficult to see with the naked eye, scientists will have a number of instruments pointed at the object as it breaks apart in our atmosphere. This is the first time that experts have calculated the exact time and location a piece of space junk will collide with Earth.

Scientists hope to use their observations to improve predictive models of how objects interact with Earth’s atmosphere, which is important for establishing danger zones if, say, a large asteroid were to strike over a highly populated area at some point in the unforeseen future.

Slooh’s broadcast will feature Slooh host Paul Cox and impact specialist Mark Boslough who will discuss the importance of WT1190F. If you have questions, you can ask on Twitter using #Slooh in your tweet. Don’t forget to check out the event, starting at 8am ET on Friday the 13th (or 12am AEST Saturday) below:

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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