Added by Erik West on November 13, 2015
Debris referred to as space junk, possibly from a mission to the moon during the 1960s, reentered the earth’s atmosphere on Friday off the coast of Sri Lanka. The debris burned up in a bright fireball observed by a special team that was observing the event.
The object, called, WT1190F, was discovered in October 2014 by Rose Matheny using data taken by the Catalina Sky Survey. It was then that scientists were able to pinpoint the date, time, and location of the debris reentry into our atmosphere.
Mark Boslough, of Sandia National Laboratories commented about the debris origin and composition saying it was “some part of a spacecraft. It was possibly a moon mission – there were many of them – There are a lot of possibilities, but it was not a very big object”.
The size of the object is speculated to be between one and two meters and has a low density – meaning that it could have been a panel or some sort of object with a hole at the center – like a spent rocket engine.
Orbital dynamists, scientists that study the motion of objects around planets, calculated that WT1190F had a “very low density, and the size (of it) is based on its magnitude…and that’s down around a meter or two.”
Boslough added the he was “hoping [the science team] got some spectroscopy to hopefully collect the spectra of this thing which will give us another clue about what material it was made of so there may be enough clues in this to actually backtrack and determine what it came from”.
Spectroscopy measures the light coming from an object to determine its chemical composition. For example, sodium emits a yellowish light whereas aluminum gives off a silver-white light when burned.
Images of the debris were taken by a science team on a mission by United Arab Emirates Space Agency and European Space Agency.