An object that is believed to be a spent rocket body or other component from a lunar-bound spacecraft will make a fiery return to Earth on Nov. 13, likely burning up in the process.
Astronomers with the Catalina Sky Survey spotted the object, temporarily designated WT1190F, on Oct. 3. The same team soon realized they had spotted the object twice previously in 2013.
ANALYSIS: When (Part of) Apollo 13 Reached the Moon
The observations were enough for scientists to create a computer model of WT1190F's journey and predict its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere around 1:20 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (Daylight Savings Time ends Nov. 1.)
Whatever survives the plunge through the atmosphere will splash down in the Indian Ocean off the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
"The object is quite small, at most a couple of meters in diameter, and a significant fraction if not all of it can be expected to completely burn up in the atmosphere," the European Space Agency posted in its Near Earth Objects Coordination Center website.
"Its mass is not sufficient to cause any threat to the area, but the show will still be spectacular since for a few seconds the object will become quite bright in the noon (local time) sky," ESA wrote.
ANALYSIS: Space Junk From Failed Russian Launch Found in China
WT1190F is currently in an egg-shaped orbit around Earth that stretches as far as twice the distance of the moon.
In addition to the Catalina Sky Survey observations, WT1190F was found in archived Pan-STARRS data from 2015, 2013 and 2012, noted Bill Gray, an astronomer software developer, in a message on the Minor Planet Mailing List.
"I'm hoping ... somebody will be able to go back further than that. If they can, we might find a point where it passed close to the moon, just as a lunar mission reached the moon," Gray wrote, adding that astronomers previously used this technique to trace pieces of space junk to China's Chang'e satellite and to booster rockets used for the U.S. DSCOVR and LCROSS missions.
ANALYSIS: Russian Rocket Explosion Boosts Space Junk Risk
Scientists believe the object is manmade space junk because of its low density, roughly 10 percent the density of water.
"This is too low to be a natural space rock, but it is compatible with being a hollow shell, such as the spent upper stage of a rocket," ESA wrote.
"There's no real doubt in my mind that it's space junk," Gray added.
Several campaigns are underway to collect more information about WT1190F. Scientists also are eager to test how well they can predict the object's re-entry.
"It provides us with an ideal opportunity to test our readiness for any possible future events involving an asteroid, since the components of this scenario, from discovery to impact, are all very similar," ESA wrote.