An unknown space object called ‘WTF’ is headed for Earth

October 27, 2015, 2:26 PM UTC
German Astronaut Alexander Gerst Aboard The International Space Station
In this handout photo provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) on July 17, 2014, German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst took this image of the Earth reflecting light from the sun whilst aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Photograph by Alexander Gerst — ESA/NASA

The European Space Agency says an object in high orbit will be reentering the Earth’s atmosphere next month.

The near-Earth object (NEO), now known as WT1190F, was first noticed in 2013 by the Catalina Sky Survey. Its density is significantly less than that of most asteroids, but is consistent with a hollow shell. The ESA believes it to be part of a rocket body fragment.

Observations of the object have shown that it orbits the Earth in a very non-circular trajectory every three weeks. It’s expected to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere on November 13, just 100km off the southern coast of Sri Lanka.

Scientists are confident that people in the surrounding area have nothing to worry about. The object is fairly small and should pose no risk. Its diameter has been measured at just a couple of meters wide, and they predict that much of it will burn up upon reentry. The remains should fall into the ocean, harming no one, but providing a noteworthy light show of sorts to those nearby.

Though the ESA is confident that there is very little risk involved, it’s particularly interested by WT1190F because it’s a rare opportunity for scientists to learn more about how objects interact with the Earth’s atmosphere. It will allow them to more accurately calibrate orbital models and reentry prediction tools.

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