It’s fairly common knowledge that there is a whole lot of garbage on Earth thanks to humans. But what is less commonly known is that space is also littered with our junk – junk that has been accumulating for almost 60 years.
Satellites, rocket hulls, and whole engines are orbiting the Earth, and the recorded amount of all that debris hit 23,000 objects in 2012. That’s an increase in space debris of 14,000 objects since 2007 alone. And that’s just the debris that’s larger than 5 cm. If you count everything larger than 1 cm, the count of space debris is higher than half a million.
To get a better sense of this increase over the years, astronomer Stuart Grey at the University College London took data from space-track.org that precisely locates each fragment of space junk and created this video that highlights the space debris multiplying before our eyes:
Not only is it little embarrassing that we’ve expanded our penchant for garbage beyond the Earth’s limits, but it also presents a danger. Since each piece of junk is orbiting the planet at hypersonic speed, even the smallest space debris could do some serious damage to spacecraft that come in contact with it.
As a result, lots of people are working to come up with ways to clean up the debris. Things like giant fishing nets, laser telescopes attracted to trash, and self-sustaining vacuum cleaners that feed on garbage are all being proposed.
Hopefully, we’re able to clean up that mess before we get a visit from another life form, and they can’t see the planet through the cloud of junk.