A little too close for comfort? A tiny space rock, or possibly a piece of space junk, has ripped through the International Space Station's solar array, narrowly missing the hull.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweets:
Bullet hole - a small stone from the universe went through our solar array. Glad it missed the hull. twitter.com/Cmdr_Hadfield/…— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) April 29, 2013
A close-up view of the hole:
So just how dangerous was this incident? Jason Major from Universe Today explains:
While likened to a bullet hole, whatever struck the solar panel was actually traveling much faster when it hit. Most bullets travel at a velocity of around 1,000-2,000 mph (although usually described in feet per second) but meteoroids are traveling through space at speeds of well over 25,000 mph — many times faster than any bullet!
Luckily the ISS has a multi-layered hull consisting of layers of different materials (depending on where the sections were built), providing protection from micrometeorite impacts. If an object were to hit an inhabited section of the Station, it would be slowed down enough by the different layers to either not make it to the main hull or else merely create an audible “ping.”
Unnerving, yes, but at least harmless.
Now, it's also quite possible that the small object was space junk. According to planetary scientist Jim Scotti, "It's unlikely this was caused by a meteor, more likely a piece of man-made space debris in low Earth orbit."