When WT1190F struck this atmosphere over the Indian Ocean around 6:20 Universal Time (12:20 a.m. CST) today , it broke apart into multiple fireballs against the blue sky. The object came down around 1:20 p.m. local time. Credit: IAC/UAE Space Agency/NASA/ESA

Spectacular Breakup of WT1190F Seen by Airborne Astronomers

13 Nov , 2015

by

Clouds hampered observations from the ground in Sri Lanka during the re-entry of WT1190F overnight, but a team of astronomers captured spectacular images of the object from a high-flying plane over the Indian Ocean very close to the predicted time of arrival. 

Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center will operate eleven staring cameras with a wider field of view, including two spectographic cameras, to catch the reentry if pointing efforts fail. Credit: IAC/UAE Space Agency/NASA/ESA

Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center is shown here before the flight setting up the eleven staring cameras with a wider field of view, including two spectographic cameras, to catch the reentry.  Credit: IAC/UAE Space Agency/NASA/ESA

The International Astronomical Center (IAC) and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency hosted a rapid response team to study the re-entry of what was almost certainly a rocket stage from an earlier Apollo moon shot or the more recent Chinese Chang’e 3 mission. In an airplane window high above the clouds, the crew, which included Peter Jenniskens, Mike Koop and Jim Albers of the SETI Institute along with German, UK and United Arab Emirates astronomers, took still images, video and gathered high-resolution spectra of the breakup.


Video and still imagery of WT1190F’s Reentry November 13, 2015

The group of seven astronomers hoped to study WT1190F’s re-entry as a  test case for future asteroid entries as well as improve our understanding of space debris behavior. Photos and video show the object breaking up into multiple pieces in a swift but brief fireball. From the spectra, the team should be able to determine the object’s nature — whether natural or manmade.

Wide view of the colorful fireball created when WT1190F burned up in Earth's atmosphere. Credit:

Wide view of the colorful fireball and breakup when WT1190F struck Earth’s atmosphere. More than 20 cameras were used to record the event. Credit: IAC/UAE Space Agency/NASA/ESA

Animation made on Nov. 12 when WT1190F was still in one piece in orbit about Earth. Credit: Marco Langbroek

Animation from photos made on Nov. 12 when WT1190F was still in one piece in orbit about the Earth. Credit: Marco Langbroek

Gulfstream 450 business jet, sponsored by United Arab Emirates and coordinated by Mohammad Shawkat Odeh from the International Astronomical Center, Abu Dhabi. There are only five windows available to observe the object. The observation teams comprise:

Flying observatory. This Gulfstream 450 business jet, sponsored by United Arab Emirates and coordinated by Mohammad Shawkat Odeh from the International Astronomical Center, Abu Dhabi, was used by the team to observe and record the re-entry. Only five windows were available to make observations. Credit: IAC/UAE Space Agency/NASA/ESA

SETI Institute staring cameras used for wide field observations of the re-entry. Credit:

SETI Institute “staring cameras” used for wide field observations of the re-entry. Credit: IAC/UAE Space Agency/NASA/ESA

, , , ,



Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
November 13, 2015 11:07 AM

One guy operating all those instruments through the window of an airplane during a meteor? I’m impressed not only if it succeeds, but already by the attempt. One can almost hear Peter cursing the cables in that photo.

BlackWolfStanding
Member
BlackWolfStanding
November 13, 2015 12:02 PM

I’ll go out on a limb and say WT1190F was a man-made object. First, it’s orbit would have been hard to accomplish by an asteroid. Not impossible, by highly unlikely. Second, the energy released by the object really wasn’t that great. It was on the order of a hollow object rather than soft asteroid.

Aqua4U
Member
November 13, 2015 6:24 PM

Thanks for this followup and in advance for the next! I wonder how high they flew?

Paul Gracey
Member
Paul Gracey
November 13, 2015 8:12 PM

I note that the Sony on the left is the Mirrorless A7 with the Carl Zeiss lens, not a DSLR. It can output full resolution HDMI real time for monitoring, as well as having a Wifi remote control system and is much lighter than other cameras of that quality. A good choice for low light I have found.

wpDiscuz