Somewhere it hurtles more than 200 miles above the planet’s surface It is one of the newest Earth satellites: A tool bag, and you may be able to spot it with a good telescope or binoculars if you know where to look.
The white briefcase-like tool bag slid off two astronauts during a rare all-female spacewalk on Nov. 1 while performing maintenance on the International Space Station, according to social media posts on X (formerly Twitter) from Scientists And Other experts Familiar with the situation.
While there’s no official word on whether the tool bag contains a 10mm wrench, the bag was spotted floating atop Mount Fuji last week by Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa. It’s now been space junk ever since Indexed by ID number: 58229/1998-067WC.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first tool bag lost in space. In November 2008, Endeavor astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper lost her grip on her backpack-sized tool set while cleaning up a mess caused by a grease gun leak, according to space.com.
This toolbag, worth $100,000, orbited the planet for several months until it reached its fiery end after falling to Earth and disintegrating. Experts believe the kit bag lost last week will meet the same fate when it is hurtled into the upper atmosphere, which is becoming increasingly sparse.
As of September 2023, the European Space Agency estimates that 11,000 tons of space objects are orbiting Earth. This includes up to 36,500 pieces of debris larger than 10cm, objects that could cause catastrophic damage if they collided with a satellite or rocket.
How to see the missing tool bag dropped by ISS astronauts using binoculars
Detecting a suitcase-sized kit traveling thousands of miles per hour in the planet’s thermosphere is not an impossible task, avid sky watchers say.
To start, the bag is reflective thanks to it catching sunlight and shines just below the visible limit of the naked eye, according to EarthSky.org, which means you should be able to spot the tool bag with good binoculars.
Under a clear, dark sky, the suitcase can be seen floating in front of the International Space Station, which is the third brightest object in the night sky and looks like a fast-moving plane, according to NASA.
Fortunately, it’s easy to spot if you know where to look.
You can follow the International Space Station online at SpotTheStation.nasa.gov or by downloading the app itself on Apple or Google Play.
According to EarthSky, follow the path of the International Space Station and scan the sky in the area directly in front of the space station. As the instrument bag gradually loses altitude, it should appear two to four minutes earlier than 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 reached at [email protected].
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