Space oddity: the mystery of 2013 QW1

Last month, ESA’s near-Earth asteroid coordination centre triggered a series of European observations that confirmed an unknown object was, in fact, of human origin. The confirmation was the Centre’s second such success in recent months and demonstrates the effectiveness of the Agency’s asteroid-monitoring activities.
On 23 August, a rather unusual object was spotted in the sky by the US PanSTARRS asteroid survey and provisionally named 2013 QW1. The suspected near-Earth object (NEO) was moving in an Earth-centred orbit, leading astronomers to ask: was it natural or artificial?
If artificial, it would not be the first time that an asteroid-hunting survey had rediscovered a lost rocket stage wandering in space close to the edge of our planet’s gravitational reach. 
For example, when the third stage of the Apollo 12 mission failed to crash on the Moon as planned (NASA used such impacts to generate ‘Moonquakes’ that could be studied by lunar seismographs to gain information on the Moon’s interior), its subsequent orbital evolution was alternatively dominated by the attraction of the Sun and Earth.
The object was eventually rediscovered in 2002 as a temporary satellite of Earth, and its manmade origin was revealed by analysing the light reflected by the rocket body, which did not resemble that of an asteroid but rather revealed the titanium-enriched white paint used at that time for the Apollo rockets.
However, for the mysterious 2013 QW1, things were not that simple, and further observations were needed to determine whether it was artificial or natural.
Full Article


Credit: ESA/TNG/Telescopio Nazionale Galileo

Space oddity: the mystery of 2013 QW1

Last month, ESA’s near-Earth asteroid coordination centre triggered a series of European observations that confirmed an unknown object was, in fact, of human origin. The confirmation was the Centre’s second such success in recent months and demonstrates the effectiveness of the Agency’s asteroid-monitoring activities.

On 23 August, a rather unusual object was spotted in the sky by the US PanSTARRS asteroid survey and provisionally named 2013 QW1. The suspected near-Earth object (NEO) was moving in an Earth-centred orbit, leading astronomers to ask: was it natural or artificial?

If artificial, it would not be the first time that an asteroid-hunting survey had rediscovered a lost rocket stage wandering in space close to the edge of our planet’s gravitational reach. 

For example, when the third stage of the Apollo 12 mission failed to crash on the Moon as planned (NASA used such impacts to generate ‘Moonquakes’ that could be studied by lunar seismographs to gain information on the Moon’s interior), its subsequent orbital evolution was alternatively dominated by the attraction of the Sun and Earth.

The object was eventually rediscovered in 2002 as a temporary satellite of Earth, and its manmade origin was revealed by analysing the light reflected by the rocket body, which did not resemble that of an asteroid but rather revealed the titanium-enriched white paint used at that time for the Apollo rockets.

However, for the mysterious 2013 QW1, things were not that simple, and further observations were needed to determine whether it was artificial or natural.

Full Article

Credit: ESA/TNG/Telescopio Nazionale Galileo


Posted 10 months ago with 86 notes
Tagged:AstronomysciencesatelliteApollo 122013 QW1spacegifartificial satellite

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