Earth is 'on course' to have its own Saturn-like rings made of space junk

  • 04 Dec - 10 Dec, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Mag Files

Planet Earth's pollution problem is quite literally out of this world. The growing amount of space junk orbiting Earth could eventually give the planet its own Saturn-like rings, according to Jake Abbott, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Utah. "Earth is on course to have its own rings," Abbott told The Salt Lake Tribune this month. "They'll just be made of junk." As of May, NASA reported that there are approximately 100 million pieces of debris larger than a millimetre (about .04 inches) orbiting the earth, and about 23,000 of those pieces are larger than a softball. The Department of Defense's global Space Surveillance Network sensors track more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, which have been known to pose significant problems for space crews and earthbound folk alike. Since both spacecrafts and debris travel at extremely high speeds, an impact with even the smallest piece of debris could be catastrophic. And according to the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, a total of between 200 and 400 pieces of orbital debris fall to Earth each year, but most of it burns up and disintegrates upon reentering the atmosphere. Abbott noted that cleaning up the space junk orbiting our planet isn't as easy as collecting it with a robotic arm, as most pieces of debris are spinning and would just break off the arm. Instead, he's proposed using magnets.