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Surprising Science

Shooting Space Junk with Lasers

N.A.S.A. space scientists have hit on a new way to manage the growing cloud of space junk surrounding the Earth: Use mid-powered lasers to nudge space junk off collision courses.

The growing amount of defunct satellites in Earth’s orbit, i.e. space junk, could complicate spaceflight missions in the future: “The U.S. military currently tracks about 20,000 pieces of junk in low-Earth orbit, most of which are discarded bits of spacecraft or debris from collisions in orbit. The atmosphere naturally drags a portion of this refuse down to Earth every year. But in 1978, N.A.S.A. astronomer Don Kessler predicted a doomsday scenario: As collisions drive up the debris, we’ll hit a point where the amount of trash is growing faster than it can fall out of the sky.”


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