If you were to travel into outer space and look at earth you would not only see our blue oceans and large land masses, you would see more than 20,000 pieces of space junk floating around low-Earth orbit, mostly consisting of spacecraft bits or debris caused by collisions in orbit.
According to NASA officials that debris could cause hazards for spacecraft which could collide with the debris and now NASA space scientists are planning on a way to shoot the mess out of low-orbit with mid-powered lasers that can push the space junk off collision courses.
While part of that space junk falls into earths atmosphere each year, it’s predicted that a “space belt” of junk could form in the future, making it too dangerous to fly into outer space. That prediction, developed in 1978 by NASA astronomer Don Kessler is now called the “Kessler syndrome.”
Fragments from a collision between two communications satellites in 2009 reached the International Space Station months later, causing the station to require several repairs.
According to Wired:
In the new study, the researchers suggest focusing a mid-powered laser through a telescope to shine on pieces of orbital debris that look like they’re on a collision course. Each photon of laser light carries a tiny amount of momentum. Together, all the photons in the beam can nudge an object in space and slow it down by about .04 inches per second.
Shining the laser on bits of space litter for an hour or two a day should be enough to move the whole object by about 650 feet per day, the researchers show. That might not be enough to pull the object out of orbit altogether, but preliminary simulations suggest it could be enough to avoid more than half of all debris collisions.
While it’s not the first time NASA has suggested using lasers, their new method is much less expensive than using military grade high-powered lasers that would vaporize space objects completely or cause plasma plumes on the surface of those object which would send the space junk rocketing towards earth’s atmosphere.
[Read More: Wired]