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Space junk 'UFO' prompts no-fly zone

An unidentified flying object suspected to be an old rocket body is on a crash course for Earth, prompting a call for precautions even though it's expected to burn up in the atmosphere.

Space junk could light up the daytime sky over the Indian Ocean.
NASA/P.Spurny/Astronomical Institute

There's an actual unidentified flying object on a collision course with Earth as I write this. It prompted officials in one part of the world to issue no-fly and no-fishing zones this week as a precaution.

However, rather than transporting our new alien overlords to enslave us before we even have a chance to see " Star Wars: The Force Awakens," this UFO is more likely a piece of man-made space junk about to go out in a literal blaze of glory.

The UFO in question was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey in 2013 and labeled "WT1190F." The WTF in the name is appropriate. Even today, with the object just hours away from putting on a potential light show as it burns up over the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sri Lanka, it has not been positively identified.

While NEO (near-Earth object) watchers expect that WT1109F will burn up completely in the atmosphere, Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defence isn't taking any chances. It issued the following order on Monday just in case some debris should make it to the surface:

A state of "fishing ban" and a no-fly zone have been imposed in the Southern sea area and over the sky as a space debris named WT1190F is expected to enter the Earth's atmosphere on 13 November. The space junk is expected to fall into the ocean about 65km to 100 km off the southern coast of Sri Lanka.

According to the scientific information, its mass is not sufficient to cause any threat to the area as it appears to be manmade and quite small. Possibly it could burn-up when it enters the earth's atmosphere and remains will fall into the sea.

WT1190F captured by the Catalina Sky Survey.

University of Arizona/CSS

Last month the European Space Agency said NEO experts have used observational data to estimate the object's density, "which turns out to be much less than that of the solid rocky material that comprises many asteroids. This density is in fact compatible with the object being a hollow shell, such as the spent upper stage of a rocket body or part of a stage," the ESA's Detlef Koschny said in a statement.

WT1109F is expected to burn up around 10:20 p.m. PT on Thursday, which unfortunately translates to around midday in Sri Lanka. It may be hard to see, but it's worth keeping an eye out for if you're in the area. You can also watch live from anywhere via the Slooh online observatory.

Fortunately for fireball fans, it's likely to be just one of many you might be able to catch in the sky where you are -- we're still in the midst of the Taurid meteor shower known for its slow-moving fireballs.

Either way, it's a good day for fans of fire in the sky.