Many sky watchers in Sri Lanka looking from the ground for the anticipated display of spectacular fireball colors at the re-entry of the mysterious UFO WT1190F were disappointed. But a team of scientists working with SETI and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency, who flew out in a Gulfstream business jet from Abu Dhabi, was able to obtain spectacular footage of the re-entry from a safe distance.
“Being local noon in the area, only the brightest part of the trajectory may become observable. We would therefore expect observations to be possible from land only from the southern province of Sri Lanka.”
WT1190F crashed into Earth’s atmosphere early today — Friday, November 13 at about 06:18 GMT over the southern coast of Sri Lanka — at an estimated velocity of 24,600 mph or 11 km/s. Most of WT1190F reportedly burned up in the upper atmosphere, and astronomers do not expect that any significant or identifiable piece of the space object would survive the plunge through the atmosphere. Minor pieces that make it to Earth were expected to hit the Indian Ocean about 60 miles (100 km) off the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
— Nalaka Gunawardene (@NalakaG) November 13, 2015
This lack of debris that could be used to identify the space object is regrettable mainly because it deprives scientists of the opportunity to make a positive identification of the “WTF” object.
Astronomers had speculated it could be a spent Apollo rocket stage from the 1960s or part of a more recent lunar mission. European Space Agency (ESA) scientists believed it was most likely the fuel tank of a space rocket that was discarded.
— Alan Boyle (@b0yle) November 13, 2015
Alien and UFO hunters had speculated fancifully that it was an alien UFO returning to a secret alien base off the coast of Sri Lanka after completing a space mission. But, of course, no one outside the online UFO community takes the wild speculations of UFO hunters seriously.
— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) November 13, 2015
And based on available data it was unlikely an asteroid.
“[It could be] a lost piece of space history that’s come back to haunt us.”
— Sandy (@sandygrains) November 13, 2015
The conjecture by astronomers with NASA and ESA that WT1190F was likely a spent rocket stage or discarded debris of a recent or early lunar mission was based on data that suggested WT1190F was a hollow low-density object about two meters long (six feet).
— Emilio Cogliani (@Emils72) November 13, 2015
Astronomers with the Catalina Sky Survey first detected WT1190F in October and determined from data obtained during previous observations that it was following a highly eccentric trans-lunar orbit that took it beyond our Moon. Scientists had difficulty identifying it due to its “deep Earth orbit.”
— Ernesto Guido (@comets77) November 13, 2015
With the enduring mystery of its identity, WT1190F has earned its nicknamed “WTF.”
— Mark Boslough (@MarkBoslough) November 13, 2015
And despite our inability to learn exactly what WT1190F was, its re-entry remains a significant event because it marks the first time astronomers were able to calculate the exact trajectory and time of re-entry of a space object on collision course with Earth.
Knowledge obtained from observing WT1190F’s re-entry will help scientists develop and improve predictive models of the behavior of objects approaching Earth on a collision course. This will improve scientists’ ability to predict the behavior of near-Earth asteroids that could threaten the Earth and major human populations in the future.
[Image via Astronomy Center/YouTube]