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Friday, September 26, 2008

Where Do Satellites Go When They Die?

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satellites earth

Images by: European Space Agency

No matter how often we hear about the developed world becoming more like Big Brother every day, it’s not until you see images that these from NASA that you get creeped out. How much are we being watched, traced, listened to, recorded? Anyone who has ever read George Orwell’s novel, 1984, might have seen it coming.

earth's saturn rings

The computer-generated image above was released by the European Space agency earlier this year, which shows the Earth looking more and more like our hula-hooping buddy, Saturn. The image highlights trackable objects orbiting the Earth; all 12,000 of them, and that’s just an estimation. Around 11,500, floating at an altitude of 800 to 1,500 kms, are thought to be military, scientific, commercial and navigational in nature but only around 7% are in working order. The rest are mostly telecommunications satellites and orbit in the direction of the Earth’s rotation, or geostationary orbit as it’s known. They sit about 35,786 kms high.

floating debris

Another image shows the differentiation between the satellites more clearly. Red depicts debris; the white dots are operating satellites and the outer ring is composed of satellites in geostationary orbit, which means they always sit of the same spot over the Earth.

North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been tracking objects in orbit since 1961 but now there is real concern that, with so much material floating around up there, it may cause damage to existing satellites and, worse still, working astronauts. Even though much of the debris is too small to follow, their velocity can cause untold damage. Once a tiny speck of paint that had come loose from a satellite punched a quarter-inch hole in the window of a space shuttle! Imagine going all the way into space, carrying out your given mission and then succumbing to the wrath of a speck of paint. Nightmare.

close up of satellites

More of a worry though is not just what’s going to happen to the existing unwanted bits and bobs orbiting our planet but what about all the rest they’re planning to put up there? There’s a real danger of the space above our planet turning into the largest dumping ground in the ‘verse. And, what’s worse is, when all those aliens that people are expecting to visit to finally pop round for a chinwag, they’ll never be able to tell the difference between Earth and Saturn with all those rings.

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1 comment:

preeti said...

Nice topic for discussion. I like these kind of blogs very much. But I really don't know where satellites go when they die. but I really want to know.

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Preeti
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