November, 13, 2015
An unidentified piece of space debris is expected to enter Earth's atmosphere and land in the Indian ocean, off the southern coast of Sri Lanka today (Friday, November 13) at approximately 11.50 a.m., ending its decades-long journey in the universe.
An European Space Agency (ESA) team have already positioned themselves along the southern tip of Sri Lanka, in Matara, to cover the imminent splashdown of mystery object WT1190F.
According to Marco Micheli, an astronomer at the ESA Space Situational Awareness-Near Earth Object Coordination Centre (SSA-NEOCC), the object has been in Earth's orbit since at least 2009, and is speculated to be the rocket booster, aka ‘Snoopy’, from NASA’s Apollo 10 mission in 1969.
WT1190 is expected to splash into the Indian Ocean just 65km off the southern coast of Sri Lanka according to the ESA, who have predicted the object’s trajectory based on data from 2012 and 2013. It is forecasted to move from North West to South East and is expected to explode at an altitude of 80km above sea level. As it is still a mysterious object, its remains are unlikely to reach the ground, but a fireball is expected once it enters the lower altitudes.
The team of ESA scientists are assisted in Sri Lanka by a team from Ruhunu University, led by Subath Amaradasa, to observe and report the end of WT1109F’s journey. Remnants of the object, if intact after it punctures Earth’s orbit, would be vital in ascertaining its origins.
Micheli adds, ‘The object has been moving in an elongated orbit with apogee at about twice the distance of the Moon, and perigee getting closer and closer to the Earth, until the upcoming re-entry. Since 2009, it has completed dozens of orbits around the Earth, and each orbit is about a month long.
Explaining the entity’s distinction from the International Space Station (ISS), Micheli states, ‘Given the fact that the orbit is so long, the geometry is totally different from a pass of the ISS. The latter orbits the Earth in about 90 minutes, while WT1190F takes weeks. The current pass is actually the last part of the last orbit for this object.’
Renowned Sri Lankan astronomer and astrobiologist, Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cambridge University, UK, states, ‘Fate has conspired to put our young astronomers in the world’s spotlight. Subath Amaradasa and his Hoyle Shield Team are not just excellent young astronomers, but they also happen to be focused on the important field of Near Earth Object Tracking. Perhaps ‘Snoopy’, if that’s what it is, is showing his great sense of humour and wisdom by splashing down close to their town of Matara.’
The following academics may be contacted for further information.
• Dr GDK Mahanama will be able to explain Ruhunu University’s current preparations for the observations. +94716208776
• Subath Dhanushka Amaradasa will be able to explain which technical instruments are being used to measure the object’s trajectory and how the general public may capture it. +94713459892
• (For International Media) Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe will explain the object and its orbit as well as the exciting potential for science if any pieces are retrieved. +44 7778389243
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