Astronomy Global Awareness — 28 January 2014

Man’s destructive behavior has reached Earth’s orbit and soon beyond.

Besides overflowing landfills everywhere, rivers choked by garbage and huge plastic islands floating in our oceans, there’s now space junk to consider as well. How did we manage to turn not only Earth but also our planet’s orbit into a nightmarish garbage heap?

Working with the Institute of Aerospace Systems at the Braunschweig University of Technology in Germany, Michael Najjar, a photographer and artist, has created the image shown below to demonstrate just how terrifying the amount of space debris is; there are parts of broken rockets, decommissioned satellites in questionable orbits, even missile shrapnel and fragments from disintegration, erosion, and collisions. According to NASA, there might be difficulties in the near future for spacecraft leaving Earth to even get through the junk, estimated at more than 20,000 objects large enough to be tracked from the ground. There are also approximately 300,000 pieces of debris smaller than 1 cm below 2000 km altitude.

Space Junk M. Najjar

As shown in the spectacular movie Gravity, space junk can create enormous damage to functioning crafts in orbit. Presently the largest risk of debris is the ENVISAT satellite which is about 26 meters long; contact was lost in 2012 and since then it is in an orbit where other space objects approach it within 200 meters every year. An impact would cause a devastating chain reaction of debris collisions. It most likely will stay in orbit for about 150 years before crashing down to Earth.

Incidentally, Michael Najjar hopes to be the first artist in space. He is listed to be on board of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo this year as one of the certified civilian astronauts on board, and has participated in extensive training for this flight.

See more of Michael Najjar’s work:

Article on Space Junk Explained