A large piece of manmade space debris, thought to be junk dating back from Apollo space missions, is set to collide with Earth in November.
Scientists predict that the hollow object will strike Earth at approximately 6.15am on 13 November. They have been tracking the object using specialised independent astronomy software developed by Bill Gray, an asteroid software developer in conjunction with Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and based on its trajectory, think that it may fall in the Indian Ocean about 40 miles off the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
It’s not yet certain where the space debris has originated from. It may be material from the Apollo space missions, 1961-1975, or it may be junk from a more recent moon mission. Much of the material should burn in the atmosphere before it strikes Earth, but nevertheless, software developer Bill Gray has told the journal Nature: “I would not necessarily want to be going fishing directly underneath it.”
As it entered the atmosphere, the disruptive gravity of the Moon and the Sun are thought to have kicked the object into an elliptical orbit, putting it on a collision course with Earth. Unless there are people sailing and fishing in the near vicinity to the collision, there is not expected to be any fatalities, and in any case, it is highly unlikely that there will be fisherman 40 miles off the Sri Lankan coast.
However scientists have been working on methods for protecting the Earth from asteroid collisions. An upcoming mission named the joint US –European AIDA (Asteroid Deflection and Assessment) is set to send two spacecraft to nudge an asteroid off its predicted path as a test run for what they would do in the future if an asteroid was on course to wipe out our planet. If the mission is a success, it could pave the way for scientists to discover more about asteroids and potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids and space objects.