You may have seen a snippet in the papers and on the internet a few days ago about two satellites having a mid-air (should that be mid-vacuum?) collision. What is surprising is that this doesn’t happen more often.
As Edwin Cartlidge reported recently, it is only 51 years since Sputnik was launched, and in that time we have gone from one piece of space-junk to about one hundred thousand pieces (counting bits 1 cm in size as a separate item). These things include the obvious such as expired satellites and spent rocket stages, but also contain the more bizarre, like an astronaut’s glove (what, did he just drop it while out on a space walk or something?) and a toothbrush (!!!) About fifteen thousand items are being actively tracked by the US Department of Defense. Just what they propose to do about potential collisions, I’m not quite sure, but it is worth noting that despite all this floating rubbish there is only one confirmed case of someone being hit by a piece of space-junk returning to earth (and she escaped uninjured).
This picture is a nice illustration of just what the Earth’s backyard looks like. Just what would a visiting martian think of us?