You know how difficult it is to clean up the garage and throw away all the junk that relentlessly keeps piling up? Well, it is even tougher if you are a planet getting surrounded by space junk, and we are not helping.
At the time of writing, NASA tracks approximately 20,000 pieces of rocket parts, out of order satellites, and larger than a softball pieces of debris. All of these pieces of junk orbit our planet at speeds that go over 17,000 mph.
NASA points out that they are not the only ones, either. About 500,000 marble-sized objects also create a space rubbish barrier outside of the Earth's atmosphere, and millions more do the same but are way too tiny for the Agency to keep tabs on.
Humans are notoriously bad at understanding numbers, but scientists manage to put it in visual form so that we have a better grasp at it.
Thanks to a scientist from the Royal Institution of Great Britain, an interactive website presents the evolution of space debris since the first launch of artificial satellites, in 1957.
Stuart Grey, a lecturer at University College London, is the author of the visualization. His aim was to demonstrate how much the aspect of space junk that floats around Earth has changed since the Sputnik launch of 1957. He managed to make it clear how the number of spent rocket parts and various different objects circling Earth surged exponentially since then.
Astronomers keep tabs on big pieces of space debris to ensure a safe, clear path for when new satellites or space rockets launch.
Governments, space agencies and private space explorers face the same threats when dealing with space junk. The sad news for any of the above is that the million little pieces of debris orbiting the Blue Planet could damage both spacecraft and the communication satellites launched from Earth.
The danger is consistent enough that even the International Space Station (ISS) modifies its trajectory at times to avoid collision with space junk. Considering the investment of time, resources, energy and brain power that made ISS possible, it makes sense to take all measures to keep the orbiting laboratory and the people living and working inside it safe and sound.
Space Station altered its orbit in July by a small amount to avoid such a danger.
However, there are times when such caution does not happen in due time.
In 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield observed a hole in one of the station's extensive solar panels. The damage was mendable, yet the event proves how crowded things are right above us.
If you're asking yourself who is to blame, and how did we manage to get so cluttered, read on.
Most rocket bodies feature expendable parts, meaning that after they completed their role in the launch of the space mission, they got aborted somewhere along the way. This caused parts of them to remain in orbit for an indefinite amount of time. Some satellites broke down and collided with other space communication gadgets, exploding into tiny little pieces trapped on Earth's orbit.
Not to point any fingers, but a Chinese missile test that took place in 2007 generated over 2,000 pieces of debris on its own.
Space engineers and researchers are considering ways to clean up the space debris in order to make room for functional satellites and new space missions.
Private enterprises, such as SpaceX and Blue Orbit, aim to manufacture reusable rockets which will transform how we think about space missions. Another promising idea to clear the space debris is "Pac-Man" satellite, a concept that its authors claim will eat up space trash in a way reminding of the iconic video game character.
If you feel like seeing for yourself exactly how fast the space debris cluttered in nearly 60 years, check out the video below.