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Asteroid Defense Telescope Spots 'Empty Trash Bag' Orbiting Earth

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An artist's impression of the amount of space junk surrounding Earth. Observatories tracking near-Earth objects spotted a space junk that looks like a plastic bag. While the object does not pose a threat to the planet, astronomers said its orbit is quite odd.   ( NASA )

The Northolt Branch Observatories in London has spotted an "empty trash bag object" that has an unusual orbit around Earth.

The space junk is not actually a trash bag, but it looks like one. According to a post, the satellite that is floating around the planet is a leftover from a previous rocket launch.

A Trash Bag Satellite

The material, dubbed A10bMLz, was first detected by the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii, which is tasked to keep an eye on any object in space that might impact the planet. While A10bMLz is small enough not to pose any danger, it caught the attention of astronomers because it is moving rather interestingly.

According to the Northholt Branch Observatories, the material is orbiting Earth at an average distance of 262,000 kilometers. Its orbit is highly elliptical. At its perigee (point of the orbit nearest to Earth), it is just 600 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. It has an apogee (point of the orbit farthest from Earth) of about 1.4 times as far out as the Moon.

Like a plastic bag, the material is extremely light-weight. Astronomers estimate that it has a mass of less than 1 kilogram. However, it is several meters across and is probably made of metallic foil.

Because of its mass, the observatories explained that it is highly susceptible to solar radiation pressure, making it difficult to predict its trajectory. They suspect that it will reenter the Earth's atmosphere and burn in the process in the next couple of months.

At the time of observation, A10bMLz continues its odd dance around Earth at 293,000 kilometers above the surface.

Earth's Space Junk Halo

This is not the first time that astronomers have spotted an empty trash bag object, and it will not be the last. With so many artificial satellites and spacecraft being launched, A10bMLz is not alone out there. NASA estimated that more than 500,000 individual pieces of debris are floating around the planet, about 20,000 of which are larger than a softball.

The U.S. Department of Defense reported that between 200 and 400 pieces of space junk reenter the Earth's atmosphere every year, burning up and disintegrating before reaching the ground.

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