Space junk: Orbital debris threatens future flight and Earth technology
Part of the legacy of the space age is its space junk, an ever-growing ring of “zombie” satellites and orbital debris.
Scott L. Hall, USA TODAY
Somewhere more than 200 miles above the planet’s surface is one of Earth’s newest satellites: a tool kit, and you may be able to spot it with a telescope or a good pair of binoculars if you know where to look.
The white, satchel-shaped tool bag slipped from two astronauts during a rare all-female spacewalk on Nov. 1 while they were performing maintenance on the International Space Station, according to posts on social networks on X (formerly Twitter) scientists And other experts familiar with the situation.
Although it is not officially known whether the tool bag contained a 10mm socket wrench, the bag was spotted floating above Mount Fuji last week by Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa. Now space waste, it has since been cataloged with ID: 58229 / 1998-067WC.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first tool bag lost in space. In November 2008, Endeavor astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper lost grip on her backpack-sized tool kit while cleaning up the mess caused by a leaking grease gun, according to space .com.
This tool bag, worth $100,000, circled the planet for months until its fiery end after plunging to Earth and disintegrating. Experts believe that the tool bag that disappeared last week will meet the same fate as it rushes into the upper atmosphere, which is increasingly littered with waste.
As of September 2023, the European Space Agency estimates that 11,000 tons of space objects are in orbit around Earth. This includes up to 36,500 pieces of debris larger than 10 cm, objects that could cause cataclysmic damage if they hit a satellite or rocket.
How to See the Missing Tool Bag That ISS Astronauts Dropped Using Binoculars
Spotting a suitcase-sized tool bag traveling at thousands of miles an hour in the planet’s thermosphere is not as impossible a task as it may seem, skywatching enthusiasts say .
For starters, the bag is reflective thanks to capturing the sun’s rays and shines just below the limit of visibility with the naked eye, according to EarthSky.org, meaning you should be able to spot the tool bag with a good pair of binoculars.
Under clear, dark skies, the bag can be seen floating in front of the International Space Station, which is the third brightest object in the night sky and resembles a fast-moving airplane, according to NASA.
Fortunately, it’s easy to spot if you know where to look.
You can track the International Space Station online at SpotTheStation.nasa.gov or by downloading the same app from Apple or Google Play.
According to EarthSky, follow the path of the ISS and scan the sky in the area just in front of the space station. As the toolkit loses height, it is expected to appear between two and four minutes in front of the ISS over the next few days.
John Tufts is a reporter for the Indianapolis Star, part of the USA TODAY Network. He can be contacted at [email protected].