Space junk to crash into Earth on Friday the 13th

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A set of six comet-like tails radiating from a body in the asteroid belt, designated P/2013 P5, are seen in a NASA Hubble Space Telescope set of handout images released November 7, 2013. The multiple tails were discovered in Hubble images taken on September 10, 2013. When Hubble returned to the asteroid on September 23, the asteroid looked as if the entire structure had swung around. Reuters/NASA/Handout via Reuters

A piece of space junk, called WT1190F, is on a collision course with Earth. The object, named after an expression of bafflement – “WTF,” will crash in the Indian Ocean off the southern coast of Sri Lanka on Nov 13. Most of it will burn up while blazing through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The official designation of the space object, WT1190F, is a matter of sheer coincidence. The object is fairly mysterious as it is unprecedented, and just among a handful of other space objects whose impact has been predicted accurately. The object first appeared as a blurry dot, detected by NASA astronomers in an image taken by the 2.2-metre telescope at the University of Hawaii in early October.

Gerhard Drolshagen, co-manager of the European Space Agency’s near-Earth object office in the Netherlands, says that an observational campaign is now building around the object as it charts its way through the atmosphere. It is a way for astronomers to test their preparation in the event of a potentially hazardous space object crashing on earth, as well as an interesting scientific opportunity to follow an object as it dives through the atmosphere.

“What we planned to do seems to work,” Drolshagen said in a Nature news report. “But it’s still three weeks to go.”

The Catalina Sky Survey, a program aimed at discovering comets and asteroid that closely fly by the earth, first detected WT1190F. The initial response was nothing short of “WTF,” as scientists were clueless as to what to expect of this strange body. However, its trajectory was quickly calculated by collecting more observational data as well as revisiting archival telescope data from 2012 and 2013, reports Nature.

According to Bill Gray, developer of an independent astronomy-software, working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory astronomers to track the object, WT1190F will crash into the Indian Ocean at 6:20 UTC, about 65 km off the southern coast of Sri Lanka.

“I would not necessarily want to be going fishing directly underneath it,” says Gray according to Nature news.

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