Mysterious space junk falls from the sky as multicolored fireballs

Scientists watched debris re-enter Earth's atmosphere in a fiery blaze and land in the Indian Ocean.

The mysterious space junk WT1190F fell from the sky this morning, and scientists had a flying, ringside seat as the object burned up in multicolored fireballs.

A new video of the falling WT1190F shows the first observations taken by a worldwide collaboration of researchers watching from a Gulfstream 450 business jet as the object returned to Earth to meet its fiery doom.

European Space Agency officials suggest the debris is likely from an old rocket mission, and the science team's analysis should help reveal the space junk's ultimate origin.

The object re-entered the atmosphere around 1:19 a.m. EST (0619 GMT), midday off the coast of Sri Lanka where the pieces came down. Although it glowed brightly enough to appear in the daytime sky, earthbound viewers were out of luck: A cloudy sky blocked most of the show. Luckily, the flying researchers were able to measure with a variety of cameras and instruments as the approximately 3-foot (1 meter) object burned up in the atmosphere.

Researchers discussed the newest images on a Slooh Community Observatory webcast this morning, where noted fireball expert Mark Boslough, from Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, discussed the junk's probable origin based on its unusual, highly elliptical orbit around Earth with Slooh host Paul Cox.

"There aren't that many things we launch into orbits that would take them beyond the moon, so it's most likely a piece of a lunar mission," Boslough said in a webcast. He added that it could potentially be part of a rocket or fuel tank from the Apollo missions in the 1960s.

Slooh said that the junk fell at 24,600 mph (39,600 km/h), which is why the glow was so bright despite the small size as the object broke up.

"Every kilogram [2.2 lbs.] of material has about the same amount of energy as 10 kilograms [22 lbs.] of high explosives when it's moving that fast," Boslough said.

The flying observations came from the Next TC3 Consortium Asteroid Detection and Early Warning Team (referring to 2008 TC3, the first asteroid to hit Earth that was spotted in advance). As the high-quality video, spectroscopic readings and other measurements come back, more about the space junk's source should become clear, researchers agreed — and the observations will also feed models of debris re-entry and help refine tracking methods that could be used on future incoming objects and asteroids.

Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

Copyright 2015, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Mysterious space junk falls from the sky as multicolored fireballs
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today