Some astronomy targets are less celestial in nature than others.
Joining stars, planets, nebulas, and galaxies as a target for skywatchers is now a surprisingly bright tool bag floating through the space around Earth. The bag of tools gave NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O'Hara the slip on Nov. 2, 2023, as they were conducting a spacewalk outside of the International Space Station (ISS).
The tool bag is now orbiting our planet just ahead of the ISS with a visual magnitude of around 6, according to EarthSky. That means it is slightly less bright than the ice giant Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun. As a result, the bag — officially known as a crew lock bag — is slightly too dim to be visible to the unaided eye, but skywatchers should be able to pick it up with binoculars.
To see it for yourself, first find out when you can find spot the space station over the next few months (NASA even has a new app to help you). The bag should be floating two to four minutes ahead of the station. As it descends rapidly, the bag is likely to disintegrate when it reaches an altitude of around 70 miles (113 kilometers) over Earth.
European Space Agency (ESA) reserve astronaut Meganne Christian shared footage of the moment the tool bag escaped the grasp of Moghbeli on her X account. She added that the bag had last been sighted at that time by Crew-7 astronaut Satoshi Furukawa as it floated high above Mount Fuji.
Also on X, Harvard Center for Astrophysics (CfA) astronomer Jonathan McDowell revealed that the bag is circling Earth in a roughly 258 by 258 mile (415 by 416 kilometer) orbit. McDowell also explained that the bag has also been given its own categorization in the U.S. space force cataloging system for artificial objects in orbit officially designated 58229 / 1998–067WC.
The tool bag joins a vast array of artificial space junk in orbit around Earth, ranging from pieces of shuttles and smashed-up satellites to tools used by astronauts. This isn't even the first tool bag to reach orbit. In 2008, as NASA astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper attempted to repair a jammed gear on an ISS solar panel, she lost her grip on another tool bag with then circled our planet.
The crew lock bag that floated free during the Nov 1 EVA-89 spacewalk has been cataloged as 58229 / 1998-067WC in a 415 x 416 km orbitNovember 5, 2023
And these definitely aren't the weirdest objects to find their way to orbiting Earth. That honor goes to a humble spatula. Late NASA astronaut Piers Sellers lost his grip on the kitchen implement as he was using it to spread heat-shield repair slime during the space shuttle Discovery's flight STS-121 in 2006. "That was my favorite spatch. Don't tell the other spatulas," Sellers reportedly said about the loss.
Originally posted on Space.com.
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Robert Lea is a science journalist in the U.K. who specializes in science, space, physics, astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, quantum mechanics and technology. Rob's articles have been published in Physics World, New Scientist, Astronomy Magazine, All About Space and ZME Science. He also writes about science communication for Elsevier and the European Journal of Physics. Rob holds a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy from the U.K.’s Open University