How much stuff is in orbit around the Earth and is it dangerous? (Thinkstock)
How much stuff is in orbit around the Earth and is it dangerous?
Lexile

You asked us, "How much stuff is in orbit around the Earth. And is it dangerous?"
 
NASA tracks some half a million pieces of space junk. They track everything from bits of useless satellites to the random lost glove. Or even a spatula. 
 
The United States Department of Defense tracks everything larger than a softball. There are about 20,000 objects. 
 
Why? Because a piece of space junk that size is moving at about 10 times the speed of a bullet. It will hit you with the power of 25 sticks of dynamite.
 
Worse, when space junk runs into other space junk, it doesn't just fall into earth's atmosphere and burn up. 
 
It becomes millions of little missiles racing around the earth. That's instead of two big ones.
 
Thank goodness we can always count on a little help from our friends. 
 
Take the Chinese, for example. In 2007, they decided to show off their fancy new anti-satellite missile system. And they blew up an old weather satellite. It added another 3,000 pieces of killer junk to the problem. 
 
On the upside, our mates in Australia are working on a laser to zap space junk out of orbit.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why might the United States Department of Defense only track space junk larger than a softball?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (237)
  • colek-1-bar
    11/04/2015 - 06:16 p.m.

    The United States Department of Defense only track space junk larger than a softball because any junk smaller than a softball will most probably burn up in Earth's atmosphere. In paragraph 4, it states that, "a piece of space junk that size (of a softball) in going 10 times faster than a bullet." This reveals that anything smaller than a bullet must be going a lot faster or a lot slower. So, if something extremely fast/slow and small came into our atmosphere, it would probably burn up instantly. It also could not any significant damage to a larger object if it came into contact with it in orbit because of its small size. I found the fact that Australia making a laser to "zap" objects out of orbit very interesting and surprising.

  • lucasd-3-bar
    11/04/2015 - 06:36 p.m.

    The United Statesmanly tracks space junk larger then a softball because it is not as dangerous as larger objects and is super hard to track compared to other objects. Paragraph 4 states space junk moves 10 times the speed of a bullet. Objects smaller then a softball would be extremely hard to track. This was an interesting article, and I'm suprised at how dangerous space junk can be.

  • taylore-1-bar
    11/04/2015 - 06:56 p.m.

    They don't track it because it is moving at 10 times the speed of a bullet and will hit you with a power of 25 sticks of dynamite. I thought this was interesting because I didn't know that there were over 20,000 pieces of space junk in earths orbit. This surprised me because I didn't know anything about the subject.

  • williamb-4-bar
    11/04/2015 - 07:03 p.m.

    I think they United States department of defense only tracks junk larger than softball because anything smaller may disintegrate as it approaches Earth. I think anything bigger would do a lot more damage to satellites or spacecraft in space.

  • william1108-yyca
    11/04/2015 - 08:31 p.m.

    WOW! There is so much junk orbiting around earth. I am sort of happy that they made those satellite things to save us. I wish I can make one of those. Maybe when I grow up I want to make a satellite like those.

  • williamb-6-bar
    11/04/2015 - 09:30 p.m.

    The United States Department of Defense will only track things the size of a softball because things that are smaller than it are harmless. Debris moves fast it can be very harmful to humans if it comes down to earth. It is helpful that we have help from other countries. We could use more defense tactics.

  • kaleal-2-bar
    11/04/2015 - 11:39 p.m.

    The U.S. probably only tracks space junk that is larger than a soft ball because when they are that size, they could be harmful to earth. This article interests me because I want to learn more about space.

  • isabellaa-612-
    11/05/2015 - 09:09 a.m.

    This article is really cool. I think this because 1/2 a million pieces of space junk is in orbit and it varies from the random lost glove to the broken satellite. People at NASA track anything larger than a softball.They do because anything larger than a softball if it falls to earth it will go ten times the seed of a bullet and it does not just shrivel up in flames like most things would.

  • billyz-rob
    11/05/2015 - 09:45 a.m.

    They might pick up only thing that's the size of a softball is that size because the other stuff might be to heavy and not affective.

  • centenoc-rob
    11/05/2015 - 09:46 a.m.

    i think because u cant really see many things that are smaller then a softball in the space it mit just look like a little dot in the space

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