Have you heard about the recent #spacewalk mishap where astronauts accidentally let go of a NASA tool bag? Now dubbed “uncontrolled space debris,” this bag has captured public fascination as it continues orbiting Earth ahead of the International Space Station (ISS). With the right timing and equipment, you may be able to catch a glimpse of this floating space box under the night sky in the coming days.
The Great Spacewalk Tool Bag Getaway
During a historic spacewalk on November 1st, 2023, NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara were replacing hardware on the ISS when they accidentally misplaced a tool bag. The white bag drifted away as they were working on solar array maintenance about 250 miles above Earth.
While the loss of equipment was unfortunate, it sparked significant public curiosity. People wonder – where did the tool bag go? Could I potentially see this runaway space item from down here on Earth?
Thanks to some lucky timing, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa managed to photograph the bag as it floated past Mount Fuji days later. Now labeled as “space junk” with the designation 58229/1998-067WC, the bag continues to circle Earth ahead of the space station.
And yes – you may be able to see this orbiting piece of history over the next few nights if viewing conditions align. Here’s what to know about spotting the dropped space box and tracking its sky-bound path.
When and Where to See the Floating NASA Tool Bag
The elusive space bag whips around Earth about every 90 minutes. As it descends slightly ahead of the ISS, it will only be visible in dawn or dusk lighting. Find times when your area will be in dusk while the tool bag passes some 200 miles overhead.
In the United States, sighting opportunities start on the evenings of November 22nd and 23rd. Central and northwest regions will have the best visibility in late afternoon as sunlight fades.
For the UK and Europe, experts predict ideal sightings between November 22nd-25th. Look towards the southwest skies between 6:20 pm and 6:35 pm local time.
Remember – the tool bag will only be visible for a couple minutes as it rapidly soars overhead. Make sure to be in position ahead of time!
How to Spot the Tiny NASA Tool Bag in the Night Sky
Spotting a small, fast-moving object in space can certainly seem daunting. While the tool bag probably won’t be visible to the naked eye, you can use binoculars or a telescope to increase your chances.
Here are some key sighting tips:
- Scan the sky ahead of the space station – The bag floats about 2 to 4 minutes ahead of the ISS. Know when your local flyover times are and watch the area of sky just ahead of the station’s path.
- Focus your search area – Websites will provide detailed transit coordinates. Concentrate your viewing within a 10 degree width along the trajectory.
- Use binoculars or telescopic tracking – A high quality telescope with tracking abilities will make the bag easier to spot. Without tracking, steadily hold binoculars along the expected path.
- Look near the horizon – The closer the ISS and tool bag are to Earth’s horizon, the better chance you’ll have of catching sunlight reflections.
- Hope for clear conditions – Cloudy skies or bright moonlight will make the bag incredibly hard to see. Hope for optimal ‘sky gazing’ conditions!
Tracking the Path of the Runaway Tool Bag
The lost trove continues to loop around Earth in low orbit just behind the International Space Station. But it is slowly moving farther and farther ahead of the ISS.
NASA and the Department of Defense space tracking network (SSN) closely follow all human-made objects in orbit – including this bag – to identify potential collision risks. The Joint Space Operations Center tracks about 26,000 objects regularly.
The SSN employs a range of observational methods:
- Radar tracking – Ground-based radar dishes constantly bounce signals off objects like the tool bag to precisely chart positions over time.
- Telescopic cameras – A global network of special telescopes deployed by the SSN automatically photographs and catalogs orbiting objects.
- Space-based satellites – Satellites with infrared sensors and high-resolution cameras also help observe and pinpoint trajectories of space debris like the tool bag.
By integrating data from these diverse sensors through Orbital Mechanics calculations, orbital analysts can accurately predict the evolving behavior of any tracked object like this bag. And thankfully, it seems the bag presents minimal risk as it gradually descends towards Earth’s atmosphere.
Watching the Skies!
The sight of the small white tool bag crossing the dusk or dawn sky will certainly be interesting (if you spot it!). But it also represents important lessons learned for NASA and space debris research. As we continue expanding humankind’s reach beyond Earth, developing careful processes will be critical.
In the meantime, grab some binoculars and look towards the heavens as this unusual piece of space history makes its rounds! Clear skies and happy spotting!