What happens to old satellites? Or to astronauts’ trash? It turns out that the Earth is surrounded by a sphere of garbage – often referred to as space junk. This consists of everything from bits of frozen coolant, paint flecks, astronauts’ tools, and even a toothbrush.
There is no trash collection in space. What happens, then, to all this junk? Some of it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, and you may see it one cold, crisp night, burning up as a bright shooting star in the sky. Sometimes, it can be quite large, like China’s Tiangong 1, which since the recording of this podcast crashed back down to Earth somewhere near Tahiti. But some of this space junk remains in space for decades, and perhaps will for millennia.
Today on the podcast we are joined by Dr. Lisa Ruth Rand. Lisa is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently writing a book on the history of space junk. We talk about trash left on the moon, and how Neil Armstrong’s poop will probably outlast us all. Also on the podcast, we find out that the Earth has a “copper ring”. We also discuss what would happen if all of the satellites around the Earth crash into into one another in one extended chain reaction (like in the movie Gravity). We also find out that space junk not only is a danger to astronauts in space, but to people on the ground!
So how can we clean up space junk? And what kind of weird things are orbiting the Earth as we speak? Find out in the podcast!
You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @orbital_decay.