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Space Debris

By Brian (Ruibo) Wu

Even though people may not see anything when they look up into the sky, there is a huge amount of garbage in the orbits around Earth. Abandoned satellites’ debris, rocket parts, and other man-made debris are the main components of this space junk. Due to the rapid development in the space industry, monitoring these objects is essential for the safety of satellites, space missions, and even for the International Space Station.

Recently, reported by an MIT journal, a new technology that can accurately keep track of this debris and enables people to visually see during the day time is invented.

In the past years, scientists mostly used laser light to monitor space debris. When the laser light hits a piece of cosmic debris, a part of the laser light will be refracted back to the observation station, and scientists can use the refraction detected to predict the orbit and velocity to the debris. However, the accuracy of this method is very low, and it is also hard to determine the location of the space debris solely by analyzing laser refraction.

Nowadays, mentioned in a paper published on Nature Communications, scientists designed a special imaging system with various filters, which enables researchers to visually see the space debris in the daytime. Scientists pointed out that this new technology can significantly reduce the number of errors as compared to that of previous measurements. 

In the next decades, several observation stations with this technology will be established all over the world to support space missions. As more and more detectors and manned missions are launched, the amount of space debris will surely increase, which these observation stations will play significant roles. Even though this new invention can only increase observation accuracy, it will make future navigation and recycling easier.

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