In the last days of October 2015, the stargazing world was abuzz with the discovery that a piece of space debris, WT1190F, would be making contact with Earth’s atmosphere in just a few weeks. The mysterious junk wasn’t identified as an asteroid, but was potentially a piece of leftover stuff from one of the Apollo-era missions. Whatever it was, scientists were able to look at WT1190’s trajectory and see exactly when it would arrive: Friday, November 13, 2015.
Ultimately, WT1190F’s descent into the atmosphere looked like little more than a fizzy shooting star, but it marked a huge event for researchers. WT1190F’s entry was the first time scientists have been able to pinpoint what time and where a piece of orbital debris would re-enter the atmosphere.
WT1190F’s drop towards Earth would give researchers the chance to see exactly how space junk interacts with Earth’s atmosphere. The event also marked the perfect opportunity for scientists to chart the course of an object coming towards the planet so we can find out more about how to protect ourselves in the event that something bigger and badder comes hurtling through the atmosphere.
Finally, the moment came for WT1190F to make its entry into Earth’s atmosphere just south of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The 1-meter piece of space junk entered the atmosphere in the blink of an eye — between 06:18:34 and 06:18:41 UT/GMT, to be exact. Right on schedule.
Scientists with the International Astronomical Center, the United Arab Emirates Space Agency, and NASA went to get a closer look in a plane, capturing footage of WT1190F’s last hurrah.
Check out the scientists’ aerial mission and various angles of the space debris entering the atmosphere here:
Did you miss it? Here it is in slow motion, captured by one of the United Arab Emirates Space Agency’s cameras.