Our tendency to not clean up after ourselves isn’t limited to our home on Earth. Since Sputnik was launched by the Soviets in 1957, tons of debris have been steadily accumulating within our planet’s orbit. The junk ranges from retired satellites to solitary bolts, and the problem gets worse with each passing year.
To put this relatively new issue into perspective, astronomer Stuart Grey of University College London created a computer simulation showing how rapidly space junk has amassed around the Earth over the course of six decades or so. He used data from space-track.org to map the precise location of each piece of debris.
Not only is space junk messy, it’s also incredibly hazardous. These objects orbit the Earth at such high speeds that they pose a threat to any spacecraft they come in contact with, no matter how small they are. And the more pieces of junk that accumulate, the more they will interact with one another, which could eventually create a domino effect of collisions that could have disastrous consequences. Fortunately, scientists have been hard at work researching possible solutions, though some seem more plausible than others. One proposal includes rocket engines that convert space junk into fuel, and another idea suggests that giant lasers are the answer. You can check out the full simulation in the video above.
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