Debris from previous space explorations is falling back to the ground.
A piece of space junk, given the name WT1190F, is on trajectory to enter the Earth’s atmosphere on Friday, but scientists are not too alarmed.
According to a report on phys.org, the mysterious space debris will re-enter the atmosphere at about 6:20 GMT somewhere in the sky above Sri Lanka. The debris is expected to burn up completely upon re-entry, but some small pieces may make contact with the Earth.
The object, first spotted by the Catalina Sky Survey in 2013, is most likely the remnants of a previous space mission, but no one is quite sure which one. Some say it may even be a relic from the Apollo era of space exploration.
But scientists are excited to follow the path of the falling object. By studying the trajectory of WT1190F, they have an opportunity to try to improve methods for predicting where space objects may hit as they return to Earth.
Astronomers estimate the object is less than six feet in diameter and hollow, and that means it will probably be too small and fragile to reach the Earth’s surface. It could, however, put on a firework-type display for inhabitants of south Sri Lanka.
The researchers say that should any objects survive the re-entry process, they will most likely fall into parts of the Indian Ocean. Past space junk encounters have shown that much larger objects could not survive the re-entry drag to strike the Earth and cause damage.
Back in 2001, the 135-ton Russian Mir Space Station fell back into the atmosphere, and almost completely vaporized, with some small fragments dropping harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean.
NASA’s Sky Lab, which fell to Earth in 1979, burned up later than expected by scientists and fragments actually hit the Earth southeast of Perth in Australia. No one was injured, but NASA scientists at the time had predicted that the likelihood of a human being struck by falling pieces of the space junk was one in 152.
Surveys using radar have determined there are an alarming number of objects of space debris currently orbiting the Earth, although most are very small and will present no danger upon re-entry.
But the scientists are using every opportunity to track and study the return of these objects for use in predicting when and where larger objects that may survive the re-entry process could strike.