A piece of unidentified space junk is heading straight for Earth and is scheduled to land in the Indian Ocean sometime next month. Researchers aren’t sure what the UFO is, but it has been named “WT1190F.” Though the letters are purely coincidental, the internet has taken to calling the mysterious hunk of space debris “WTF.”
According to the Hindustan Times, the precise destination time of WT1190F is around 5 p.m. on November 13. Experts predict that it will plunge into the Indian Ocean approximately 104 km, or 65 miles, off the southern tip of Sri Lanka.
While the “WTF” UFO is still completely unidentified, researchers at least know that it was made by humans. This means it could be anything from a piece of a satellite or some discarded piece of space exploration material, such as a rocket from a recent lunar mission or even a decades-old component from an Apollo program spacecraft. Once the strange space object gets closer to the Indian Ocean, experts may be able to observe it more clearly and determine what chunk of space debris they’re dealing with.
Fortunately, it seems that WT1190F will land safely in the Indian Ocean without posing a threat to any human life — but it will certainly result in a massive piece of ocean litter.
— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) October 23, 2015
Of course, much of WT1190F will burn up in the atmosphere, which will make observing and identifying the object even more difficult. But since the space junk is man-made, there’s not much to glean from investigation aside from understanding how a satellite can go from distant orbit to plummeting into the Indian Ocean.
Nick Moskovitz, a Lowell Observatory planetary astronomer, told Phys.org,“Observing [the WT1190F landing in the Indian Ocean] will allow us to gain a better understanding of how Earth’s atmosphere is processing material as it comes through. This will help us gain some insight into what is actually making it to the ground and how that represents the asteroids out there.”
Despite the low risk of WT1190F’s reentry, astronomy-software developer Bill Gray told Nature,“I would not necessarily want to be going fishing directly underneath it.”
WT1190F was orbiting beyond Earth’s moon for quite some time before anyone even noticed it. In October of 2015, the Catalina Sky Survey program observed the piece of unknown space trash on a course for the Indian Ocean and notified the public. The Catalina Sky Survey was primarily formed to discover foreign objects like WT1190F, asteroids and comets as they approach the Earth.
Since the Survey pointed out that something was headed for the Indian Ocean, other experts began weighing in, according to the journal Nature.
“It is a lost piece of space history that’s come back to haunt us,” said astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center. “It’s coming in fast and will get very hot — it’s possible a few dense parts of say a rocket engine will survive to impact the [Indian Ocean].”
According to India Today, the arrival of the WT1190F in the Indian Ocean will mark the first time a man-made space object has collided with Earth.
NASA reports that orbiting space debris is becoming an increasingly difficult obstacle for space research, especially regarding the International Space Station. The vast majority of space junk is smaller than a softball, but the scientists believe WT1190F could be as big as seven feet long. Its movement and direction toward the Indian Ocean leads researchers to believe it is hollow.
The “WTF” UFO could even be part of the Saturn V rocket, which was essential in allowing humans to set foot on the moon.
What do you think WT1190F is? And would you want to be there to see it land in the Indian Ocean?
[Photo by NASA]