Astronomy/Space Junk?

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Question
I'm doing a project for school, and I was wondering how long you think it will be before we can go into space and clean up space junk? I know that will be a HUGE task... but will that even ever be possible? Or is our best bet to just not leave anything else in space.

Answer
Hi Carter,

Since it's a school project, I won't give you the answers. Actually, there aren't any "definitive" answers, but there is a scientific way to approach the problem.

First, how big a problem is it? 100's, 1000's, millions of pieces? How big are the pieces? Where are the pieces located - low earth orbit, high earth orbit, solar orbit, etc.? What are they made of?

Once you've scoped the problem, then think about clean up approaches:

1) Do nothing, but don't put any other junk out there. We know junk in earth's orbit will eventually lose orbital energy through tidal interactions and collisions. How long will that take? Is it feasible?

2) Use a magnetic sweeper. Is that feasible? Why or why not?

3) Use a high power laser to disintegrate the junk to a "harmless" gas. Is that feasible?

4) Any other ideas?

Hope that helps. Good luck on your project.

Prof. James Gort

Astronomy

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James Gort

Expertise

Questions on observational astronomy, optics, and astrophysics. Specializing in the evolution of stars, variable stars, supernovae, neuton stars/pulsars, black holes, quasars, and cosmology.

Experience

I was a professional astronomer (University of Texas, McDonald Observatory), lecturer at the Adler Planetarium, professor of astrophysics, and amateur astronomer for 42 years. I have made numerous telescopes, and I am currently building one of the largest private observatories in Canada.

Publications
StarDate, University of Texas, numerous Journal Publications

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