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Space Junk Goes Out in a Blaze of Glory

posted: 11/13/15
by: Danny Clemens

Skygazers were treated to a brilliant show early this moring, when a derelict piece of space junk burned up as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere. An international team of astronomers was on hand as the object, WT1190F, went out in spectacular fashion over Sri Lanka:


Catalina Sky Survey astronomers originally identified WT1190F in 2013. It's unclear what exactly the object is, although the European Space Agency believes that the object was likely part of an old rocket.

Scientists were able to roughly measure WT1190F's size and density last month, and that observational data confirmed that the object was space hardware, not a rocky body.

"The object is too small and distant to show up as anything but a point of light in a telescope. We can measure how much light that telescope gets, though, and say that it has to be at least a meter or so across," wrote Project Pluto's Bill Gray.

According to NASA, there are more than 21,000 pieces of space debris larger than 4 inches across currently orbiting Earth. While well-protected from impact, the International Space Station and other artificial satellites are occasionally forced to maneuver around floating space debris.

Little can be done about the debris currently in orbit; space agencies around the planet are actively investigating ways to minimize the amount of orbital debris that future missions leave behind.

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