Some things in the sky aren’t as celestial as you’d expect. Beyond stars, planets, nebulas, and galaxies, imagine a not-so-twinkling surprise: a tool bag doing a cosmic dance around Earth.
This unexpected performer slipped away from NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara on November 2, 2023, during their extravehicular escapade around the International Space Station (ISS).
Now, this tool bag is stealing the spotlight, orbiting just ahead of the ISS. EarthSky reports its visual magnitude is around 6, making it a tad dimmer than Uranus, our distant ice giant friend. While it might not catch your eye without binoculars, it’s worth the search.
If you’re up for a celestial treasure hunt, first track when the ISS graces the night sky (NASA’s got an app for that!). The bag usually floats two to four minutes ahead of the station. As it zooms towards Earth, brace yourself—it might break up around 70 miles up in the sky.
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ESA astronaut Meganne Christian spilled the cosmic beans on her X account. She posted the video of the bag’s Houdini act, escaping Moghbeli’s clutches. Crew-7’s Satoshi Furukawa last saw it, casually cruising above Mount Fuji.
Harvard CfA’s Jonathan McDowell, our cosmic tour guide, spilled the details. The bag’s doing loops in a 258 by 258 miles orbit. In the U.S. Space Force’s fancy cataloging system, it’s the distinguished 58229/1998–067WC. That’s a mouthful for a runaway tool bag.
Our lost tool bag isn’t the only act in this orbital circus. Earth is hosting a carnival of space debris—NASA shuttle bits, shattered satellites, and even tools left behind by forgetful astronauts. This isn’t the first; in 2008, another tool bag enjoyed a solo flight courtesy of astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper.
If you think tool bags are odd, let’s talk spatulas. The title for the weirdest space object goes to a humble spatula. Piers Sellers, a late NASA astronaut, accidentally released his trusty spatula while spreading heat-shield repair slime during a 2006 space shuttle Discovery mission. Sellers, mourning his kitchen companion, said, “That was my favorite spatch. Don’t tell the other spatulas.”
As our tool bag pirouettes around Earth, we wait for its grand finale. Will it gracefully bow out at 70 miles, or surprise us with an encore? One thing’s for sure: this orbital drama has turned a routine spacewalk into a celestial spectacle. Keep those eyes on the sky—there’s no telling what might drop in next.