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Scientists: Earth will have “space junk” rings and may resemble Saturn

It seems that our planet is not only fighting pollution on Earth in water and in the air, but Earth’s orbit is also on its way to becoming the junkyard of our solar system.

“The Earth is on its way to having its own rings,” said University of Utah researcher Jake Abbott.

“The rings will be made of space junk,” Abbott told the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month.

Four of our solar neighbours, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, boast different types of rings, and Saturn’s are the most amazing of all.

The distinctive wide rings that adorn Saturn are made of ice and rock that have been trapped in the planet’s orbit. The same generally applies to the rest of the rings on other planets, with different compositions of ice and cosmic dust.

But on Earth, the rings will be entirely man-made, left over from satellites, missiles, and other stalled and damaged space collisions.

The Department of Defense as well as NASA’s Office of Orbital Debris Program keep detailed records of Earth-orbiting objects.

There are currently an estimated 23,000 pieces of orbital debris, none of which is the size of a baseball, and there are hundreds of millions of pieces in even smaller sizes. At speeds of 17,500 miles per hour, these large chunks pose a serious threat to space travel and research.

Utah researchers are busy studying safe and economical ways to clean up our orbit. Abbott cautioned against proposed methods designed to stop space junk in its tracks, as it could create more debris.

It is believed that between 200 and 400 pieces return to Earth annually, although most of them burn up in the atmosphere before they can make an impact.

But as the commercial space race escalates, observers are sure to see more objects scattered across the night sky, and thus the potential for more unwanted junk.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk, as well as Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos, have announced plans to launch tens of thousands of new satellites in the coming years.

Source: The New York Post

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