ASTRONOMERS are baffled by a mysterious piece of space rubbish orbiting the Earth in an unusual way.
The piece of debris, spotted as close as 370 miles from the Earth’s surface, is thought to be what is known as an “empty trash bag object”.
It is believed to be a remnant from a rocket launch – but experts can’t figure out which spaceship it came from.
Empty Trash Bag Objects – also known as ETBOs – often orbit in erratic ways given their size and shape.
They can stretch several metres across, but tend to be incredibly light – with this object weighing less than a kilo.
Scientists say that although they cannot be sure what the object is, it is likely just a piece light material like metallic foil left over from a space mission.
There are thought to be an estimated 170million pieces of ‘space junk’ left behind from rocket launches[/caption]
Scientists can’t work out which rocket the piece of space junk came from[/caption]
But it sent skygazers into a frenzy last week when on Friday it was spotted by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) telescope in Haleakala, Hawaii.
The object was later analysed by experts at the Northolt Branch Observatories in London – who were able to judge it as a likely ETBO.
Astronomers here dubbed the object A10bMLz, and said it is “extremely light-weight” – but is also several meters long.
In a Facebook post, Northolt Branch Observatories explained: “This suggests that it is what is known as an ’empty trash bag object’.
“A piece of light material (probably metallic foil), left over from a rocket launch.
“It is not clear yet when A10bMLz has been launched.”
At present, we have no idea as to the origin of this object
Astronomers were left further puzzled after noticing the object was orbiting in the opposite direction than it should.
A10bMLz was moving in a “retrograde” fashion, the scientists said – rather than the “prograde” West to East fashion.
Northolt Branch Observatories added: “The orbit is highly elliptical, with a perigee just 600 km above the Earth’s surface, and an apogee 1.4 times as far out as the Moon.”
This huge orbit – a first of its kind for an ETBO – is making it all the more difficult to identify the origin of the object.
Space junk: What is an 'Empty Trash Bag Object'?
THE result of thousands of space missions, Empty Trash Bag Objects make up many of the 170million estimated pieces of junk orbiting Earth.
Empty Trash Bag Objects, or ETBOs, are thus called because of their unpredictability.
Like a plastic bag being blown in the wind, ETBOs can change orbits wildly.
Often lightweight but large in size, the objects can be affected by the Sun’s radiation and pushed in different directions.
They tend to orbit relatively close to Earth.
But A10bMLz is unique in that an ETBO with such a large orbit has never been seen.
At its furthest from Earth, the object is 1.4 times the distance to the Moon.
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Project Pluto, which makes planetarium software, said: “At present, we have no idea as to the origin of this object.
“That’s mostly because its past trajectory is really uncertain.
“As with an empty trash bag blowing down the street, it may zig and zag in unpredictable ways.”
Pressure from the Sun’s radiation is enough to send the lightweight object off in strange directions.
It may even burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere in a matter of months before boffins can work out where it came from, Northolt Branch Observatories added.
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