WT1190F: Space Junk Burns Up in Earth's Atmosphere

International Astronomical Center/United Arab Emirates Space Agency/YouTube

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By Keith Wagstaff

A mysterious piece of space junk entered Earth's atmosphere early Friday morning, burning up off the coast of Sri Lanka.

The object, known as WT1190F, was probably a piece of "a rocket body," according to the European Space Agency, although nobody is sure which rocket it came from.

It was first observed by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in 2013. After orbiting the Earth for years, it finally entered the atmosphere traveling at around 24,000 miles per hour at around 1:19 a.m. ET, or right before noon in Sri Lanka.

Images of WT1190F were captured by researchers from the SETI institute, the International Astronomical Center in Abu Dhabi, and other institutions, who were observing from a Gulfstream jet.

Amateur astronomers watching from the ground didn't see much due to cloudy conditions.

Those disappointed by the lack of pyrotechnics this time around can expect another piece of falling debris in the future. Currently there are around 500,000 piece of space junk orbiting Earth, according to NASA. Each of them are traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, which makes them a serious threat when it comes to damaging satellites and spacecraft.