Space debris is quickly becoming a major threat for satellites and extraterrestrial travel — and could have fatal implications for the latter if the issue is not stopped.
According to NPR, the International Space Station (ISS) almost came into contact with space junk this past week for the third time this year. The debris usually consists of the broken pieces of technology that have been used over the past 63 years of space exploration — most often from satellites. The trash often travels at speeds of around 18,000 miles per hour, meaning that even small objects can have dire consequences.
In an interview, Raffi Khatchadourian, a reporter for The New Yorker, detailed the growing problem.
Khatchadourian explained that one of the first signs that space debris would become an issue was back in 2015, when astronauts realized that an object was projected to hit the ISS at a staggering 31,000 miles per hour. It was detected late, so the astronauts only had four hours to move the station. It was too little time, so those on the craft had move into the capsule “lifeboat” and hope that the object missed. Fortunately, it did.
Less fortunately, such scares are only becoming more and more common.
“It’s estimated that there are 8,000 metric tons of sort of human-engineered mass zooming around the planet,” Khatchadourian explained.
“About 26,000 of those are of a size that the U.S. military can track, so 10 centimeters or larger. But when you get below the size of 10 centimeters, then you end up with, you know, something like a hundred million pieces that are the size of a millimeter or even a hundred trillion, the size of a micron. At the speeds we’re talking about, something the size of a grain of sand can destroy an entire spacecraft,” he concluded.
However, the issue is not just alerting the general public to the problem; it is also finding a solution. Scientists have not come up with a specific plan on how to clear the atmosphere, with suggestions ranging from lasers to nets to the seemingly sci-fi inspired “harpoons or robotic pincers.”
Yet, what remains in agreement is the need for change. Astronomers have long warned about Kessler syndrome, which is the frightening possibility of space becoming so crowded that it is unusable. This would have dire consequences for our modern world, which relies on satellites and other objects for a number of necessities.
The warning comes after the space community has cheered recent good news. As was previously covered by The Inquisitr, a new noxious gas has been found on Venus, leading experts to hypothesize about possible life on the neighboring planet.