NEW YORK — A mysterious object from space is heading toward Earth and predicted to make a crash landing next month, lighting up the midday sky as it breaks through the atmosphere and splashes down in the Indian Ocean, according to the European Space Agency.
Scientists have seen enough of the mystery object to suspect it’s a hollow shell, about 7 feet long, likely making it a discarded rocket body or part of a stage, the agency said. But they won’t know for sure until it arrives.
Because it’s so small, much of the object — or all of it — is expected to burn up in the atmosphere. Whatever is left will fall into the ocean Nov. 13, about 60 miles off the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
“Its mass is not sufficient to cause any risk to the area, but the show will still be spectacular, since for a few seconds the object will become quite bright in the mid-day sky,” the agency said.
Dubbed WT1190F, the object has been traveling around our planet every three weeks in a “highly eccentric” non-circular orbit, scientists said. It was first spotted by a near-Earth object (NEO) monitoring system which scans deep into the universe searching for asteroids or harmful space weather that could affect us on Earth, and it’s moving similarly to the way an NEO would.
What makes this event so special -- as opposed to planned re-entries of rockets or satellites -- is that it's uncontrolled fall to our planet gives scientists a unique look at how a near-Earth object or asteroid would behave should it come barreling toward Earth, without much risk, scientists said.
“The first goal will be to better understand the reentry of satellites and debris from highly eccentric orbits,” Marco Micheli, as astronomer working at the NEO Coordination Centre, said in a news release from the ESA.
“Second, it provides an ideal opportunity to test our readiness for any possible future atmospheric entry events involving an asteroid, since the components of this scenario, from discovery to impact, are all very similar.”