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 defunct satellites to the occasional lost glove or spatula. 
 
And the United States Department of Defense tracks everything larger than a softball, about 20,000 of them. 
 
Why?  Because a piece of space junk that size is moving at about 10 times the speed of a bullet and 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, 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 blow 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 (64)
  • annabel1226-yyca
    11/04/2015 - 09:23 p.m.

    I think right now it is the Chinese people fault because they blasted they're missile to boast and then boom they broke the weather satellite. Now there 3,000 junks in the space. Who is going to pick them up? The Chinese people? Now thanks to the Australians they are working to see how to laser the junks in the space. We should honor Australia. How are the junks going to be faster than the bullets. I think that is wrong. Isn't going to burn up the junks? I hope so...

  • annabel1226-yyca
    11/04/2015 - 09:28 p.m.

    I hope we could fix these pollution on Earth. Why are we polluting everywhere now? We polluted the Earth now we are polluting the space. Are we going to pollute the whole universe? I hope we could fix this sooner or later. I wish there could be nice alien and help us fix this problem. I wish we don't have to die, because if the air gets polluted then we won't able to breathe. NASA and other space companies please help Earth to be Earth. We are humans, God told us to rule the universe well. Then, we should follow his commands.

  • lucasl-3-bar
    11/05/2015 - 12:25 a.m.

    Earth's atmosphere acts as a protective layer that destroys most small objects entering it. As stated by the article, when objects collide and combine, they become larger and thus pose a greater threat to people on Earth. Space junk that is larger and tougher than small softball-sized objects are more dangerous because they don't burn up as easily in the atmosphere. Also, with limited resources and technology, it is likely that the United States Department of Defense can not track every bit of space junk, so we must focus on those that are a larger threat to the safety of people on Earth.
    The article provided evidence and information about a topic that is becoming a greater danger because of increasing space exploration. It was unique and may even foreshadow major problems about garbage from people, and that it is not restricted only to Earth.

  • anahaip-612-
    11/05/2015 - 09:10 a.m.

    The United States Department of Defense only tracks space junk larger than a softball is because stuff that small is moving as 10 times the speed of the bullet. When small pieces are less likely to hit someone.The last thing is when small pieces of space junk get stuck together they are easier to track but they can start to burn and enter Earth's atmosphere.

  • amayagranadosl-rob
    11/05/2015 - 09:44 a.m.

    The United States Department of Defense only tracks space junk larger than a softball.This is because that space junk can kill somebody and it would hurt us really bad. if one comes to hit you it would be 25 sticks of dynamite coming towards you really fast.

  • greysonr-moo
    11/05/2015 - 10:30 a.m.

    Because it travels so fast the big junk wont go as fast but the small stuff could fall down and hit someone.

  • ryann-hor
    11/05/2015 - 11:09 a.m.

    they would track it because it can fall to earth and also Because a piece of space junk that size is moving at about 10 times the speed of a bullet and will hit you with the power of 25 sticks of dynamite.

  • christinal-hor
    11/05/2015 - 11:14 a.m.

    The United States Department of Defense only track space junk larger than a softball because a piece of space junk that size is moving at about 10 times the speed of a bullet and will hit you with the power of 25 sticks of dynamite.

  • cheyenner-hor
    11/05/2015 - 11:17 a.m.

    Because if its big it can come back and hit us. Smaller things are less likely to hit someone but bigger things like the size of a soft ball can hit someone and hit them hard.

  • briannag-deg
    11/05/2015 - 12:54 p.m.

    They only look at the space junk that is bigger than a softball because they want to know if the space junk is coming torwords the earth. They only do this because they are worried that it come torwords up. And It travels so fast that it'll hit someone very hard and injured someone so bad that it might accully kill them.

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