Dire warnings about dwindling landfill space and a flood of obsolete TVs entering the waste stream seem quaint when compared to the peril of space junk careening toward you at 17,000 miles per hour. And recent reports (like Scientific American pondering the danger it poses to the Hubble repair mission or Wired listing the weird items in orbit) indicate that there’s a lot more of it up there than you might expect:
There are about 19,000 objects in Earth orbit, most of it junk, Nicholas Johnson, NASA's chief scientist for orbital debris, told the AP. In addition to 900 satellites and approximately 1,000 "large" (bigger than four inches, or 10 centimeters) remnants from the February 10 collision, the sum of what's floating in the cosmos includes trash from manned space missions. Some of the satellite collision debris could remain in orbit for up to 10,000 years, we noted last week—and if more accumulates, the chances of additional crashes will increase by 2050, Johnson told the newswire. (The European Union has a "code of conduct for outer space activities" that includes taking "appropriate steps to minimize the risk of collision.")
Does it freak you out that there’s so much trash flying around and around a few miles above our heads? Or that it could actually fall out of the sky and hit you?