Space debris poised for fiery reentry


Small object WT1190F. It will become the first chunk of space debris whose time and location of re-entry has been predicted. This image, acquired October 9, is from the University of Hawaii’s 2.2 meter telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Image via B. Bolin, R. Jedicke and M. Micheli.

Since 1957, when Sputnik 1 became Earth’s first artificial satellite, an unintended consequences of spaceflight has been a growing population of debris – space junk – orbiting Earth. Much of debris will eventually fall back into Earth’s atmosphere, and incinerate. But space junk does pose an increasing hazard, and, over the years, the uncontrolled reentry of large chunks of debris have caused some nail biting. This week, astronomers said that – for the first time – they’ve predicted just when and where a chunk of space debris will make its fiery return to Earth. They say the object temporarily designated as WT1190F – naturally nicknamed WTF – is due to Earth’s atmosphere on November 13, 2015 – at 1:20 a.m. EST (520 UTC) – over the Indian Ocean, in the vicinity of Sri Lanka.
Planetary astronomer Nick Moskovitz of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff is one of many observers around the world helping to study object WT1190F. He told EarthSky:
This is the first time we have ever been able to predict something to the time and location of reentry.