- Video shows decades of debris ringing the planet in just one minute
- Earth’s orbit is a spacecraft junkyard and has been steadily growing
- UCL researcher animates 20,000 pieces of junk amassing around Earth
Ryan O’hare For Mailonline
09:07 EST, 31 December 2015
10:20 EST, 31 December 2015
It is difficult to keep track of just how much stuff we throw away each day, but imagine trying to capture that on a global scale, for almost sixty years, and in space.
A new video has achieved this staggering feat by visualising decades of space debris as it accumulates around the Earth.
Dr Stuart Grey, a lecturer at University College London, generated the visualisation which captures the accumulation from 1957 through to 2015.
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An animation by university lecturer Dr Stuart Grey visualises decades of space debris as it accumulates around the Earth, from 1957 through to 2015 (pictured). There are estimated to be more than 20,000 items of space junk currently trapped in Earth’s orbit
There are estimated to be more than 20,000 items of space junk currently trapped in Earth’s orbit.
This includes old engine parts, dead satellites and other floating junk generated by space missions or from collisions in space.
The video is taken from an interactive graphic published as part of ‘A Place in Space’, the Royal Institution’s advent calendar.
It illustrates the thick haze of space trash in Earth’s orbit and how the swarming mass of objects got there.
The animation tracks the slow start of the space race, with the first piece of man-made space trash being the rocket body used to launch Sputnik, the Russian satellite launched by the USSR in 1957.
This was followed closely by the first effort from the US, Explorer 1.
Cycling through the years, the number of objects explodes throughout the 1960s, which culminated in the moon landings.
The animation shows the accumulation of space debris over almost six decades, from 1957 to 2015. The first piece of space trash (pictured) was related to the launch of Russian satellite Sputnik
By the time we reach 2015 (pictured), the animation shows the swarming mass of objects – there are so many shown that they obscure the view of the Earth
By the first manned mission in 1961, there were already 200 objects orbiting the Earth, with low Earth orbit starting to get packed with debris as man stepped foot on the moon in 1969.
And by the time we reached the modern space age in the 21st century – with the establishment of the International Space Station in 1998 – there were estimated to be around 9,000 objects in a stable orbit.
The animation has since been retweeted by Nasa astronaut Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, who was aboard the International Space Station in 2006.
Space junk comes in all shapes and sizes and is increasing at an alarming rate.
Debris can become a serious threat to devices and astronauts.
Objects as small as a fleck of paint can become a hazard once they reach orbital speeds of up to 22,000mph (34,500km/h), with the very real potential of punching a hole through walls of space station modules.
Space agencies take this threat seriously, and Nasa carefully monitors any junk larger than 4-inches (10cm).
The worst case scenario was illustrated in the Hollywood blockbuster Gravity, in which the spacecraft George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are aboard is torn to shreds after debris from an exploded satellite rips through their ship.
Earlier this year a student at the University of Texas in Austin created a website that attempts to label thousands of the items in Earth’s cosmic junkyard.
WHAT IS SPACE JUNK?
Sputnik One, was launched into space 53 years ago, mankind has created a swarm of perhaps tens of millions of items of debris.
Since the first object, Sputnik One, was launched into space 53 years ago, mankind has created a swarm of perhaps tens of millions of items of debris.
The rubbish circling the planet comes from old rockets, abandoned satellites and missile shrapnel.
There are around 22,000 objects in orbit that are big enough for officials on the ground to track and countless more smaller ones that could do damage to human-carrying spaceships and valuable satellites.
It is estimated there are as many as 370,000 pieces of space junk floating in Earth’s orbit, traveling at speeds of up to 22,000mph (34,500km/h).
One previously major source of debris was the testing of anti-satellite weapons carried out by the US and Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s.
Accidental events have also contributed to the problem. In February 2007 for instance, a Russian Briz-M booster stage exploded in orbit over South Australia.
More recently, the GOCE satellite, also known as the ‘Ferrari of space’, made a fiery fall to Earth sometime between the end of December 2013 and the start of November.
Earlier this year James Yoder, a student at the University of Texas in Austin, created a website which labels thousands of the items in Earth’s cosmic junkyard. The Stuff in Space tool allows people to see the location, size and speed of objects currently in Earth orbit
But scientists are working on a solution to our planetary trash.
Scientists on the CleanSpace One Project have revealed their clean-up satellite will capture a defunct small cube satellite in a conical net, before destroying it in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The SwissCube satellite has been in Earth orbit for more than five years and engineers from eSpace, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne’s Centre for Space Engineering and Signal Processing 5 Laboratory (LTS 5), and other university partners are keen for it not to become another piece of space junk.
The group is designing the clean-up satellite which will be sent into orbit to capture the satellite in 2018.
The ‘Pac-Man’ will trap the small satellite ‘ghost’ and the two will then burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Scientists are developing ways to clear Earth’s orbit of space trash. The Clean Space One Project have revealed their clean-up satellite will capture a defunct small satellite called SwissCube in a conical net (illustrated) before destroying it in the Earth’s atmosphere