A miserable garbage planet
We have a huge space debris problem – and it will only get worse as more companies and governments launch satellites, spacecraft, probes, and even tourists into space.
While most of what we send into orbit is eventually sucked back into the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up, much of it remains – until we figure out how to do something about it.
The situation could get so bad that University of Utah professor Jake Abbott predicts Earth could soon become very Saturn-like.
“Earth will soon have rings of its own,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They will be made up of debris.”
According to the European Space Agency, there are about 170 million space debris fragments larger than one millimeter across in orbit. About 670,000 of them are more than half an inch across.
As companies like SpaceX launch their own huge constellations of satellites for broadband, our planet’s orbit is busier than ever. This means that we are also at greater risk of collisions, which could result in even more small space debris.
Now scientists are trying to figure out how to solve this problem. Abbott believes that one way to collect space debris could be to use magnets.
By spinning a magnet on the end of a robotic arm to create special electric currents called eddies, individual pieces of space debris could be controlled and slowed down, as described in a recent paper by Abbott published in the journal Nature.
“We’ve essentially created the world’s first tractor beam,” the researcher told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Now it’s just a matter of engineering. Build it and run it.”