- Experts recently observed an object that appeared to be on a trajectory to Earth
- It was eventually confirmed to be an old satellite, not an asteroid
- Two middle school students from Hawaii also spotted the satellite plummeting to Earth
Researchers spotted a 50-year-old NASA satellite as it was plummeting back to Earth and so did two middle school students from Hawaii.
On Aug. 25, experts from the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) spotted an object that appeared as though it was on an impact trajectory to Earth. Follow-up observations confirmed that the mysterious object was not an asteroid but was actually a NASA satellite that was deployed over 50 years ago, the Orbiting Geophysics Observatory (OGO-1).
But it was not only the experts at CSS who spotted the mysterious object. Two teenagers from Maui, Hawaii, also spotted the 250-pound space satellite. The two Maui Waena Intermediate School eighth grade students, Holden Suzuki and Wilson Chau, made follow-up observations of the object using the Las Cumbres Observatory Faulkes Telescope North on Haleakalā after NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies released the notification that the object could come close to the planet.
“Some people wonder if it is a good idea to put the safety of the planet in the hands of teenagers. I see them as scientists, and if they know what they are doing then age doesn’t make much difference,” outreach astronomer and mentor of the students, J.D. Armstrong of the University of Hawaii (UH) Institute for Astronomy, said in a news release. “I’ve seen a lot of students who do things like this end up getting scholarships for college. It is great to see them get the opportunity of the excitement of doing real science science, and then for the experience to help pay for college.”
Previously, Chau and Suzuki have also received accolades for their observations of the SpaceX Tesla that was launched in 2018.
In the case of OGO-1, NASA said it was launched in September of 1964 and was the first of a series of six satellites that were launched from 1964 to 1969. The satellite studied the Earth’s magnetosphere for five years until 1969 when it was placed on standby mode and scientists were no longer able to retrieve more data. All support for the mission was officially ended in 1971.
OGO-1 was projected to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere on Aug. 29 at 5.10 p.m. EDT, making it the last of the six satellites in the mission to return to Earth.