Falling ‘space junk’ could threaten life if ‘luck ends’, astrophysicist warns

As if things couldn’t get any worse on Earth, an astrophysicist has warned that humans might soon come under threat from falling space junk.

Earlier this month, an Australian sheep farmer was shocked when he woke up to find a large chunk of debris from Elon Musk’s SpaceX capsule in his garden.

The incident is the most recent example of space junk crashing down to Earth – an event that some scientists have warned could become increasingly common.

READ MORE: Chance of space junk killing someone is a scary 'ten per cent', say scientists

Now, Dr Brad Tucker has added to this research, and suggested that human life could even be at risk should the number of space junk crashes increase.

Sharing his knowledge on the I’ve Got News For You podcast, Dr Tucker suggested that so far the threat presented by this uncontrolled junk has been small.

But citing events like the SpaceX debris finding, the scientist admitted that there had been a notable increase in space junk crashes in recent times.

“We’ve had three or four major incidents in the past two years, so you can really see how fast now this problem is starting to become because of the sheer rate at which we’re putting things up in space,” he said.

Delving into what actually happens when the junk crashes down towards Earth, the scientist explained that the debris will typically hit the atmosphere at 25,000 kilometres per hour (roughly 15,000 miles per hour).

“A lot of the energy is lost – and a lot of the speed is lost – during that breaking apart and explosion, so that when the bits come down to the ground, they luckily aren’t travelling 25,000 kilometres an hour, they’re more kind of in freefall.

“But, if you still get a 15 kilogram chunk of metal in freefall from 80 kilometres (about 50 miles), you’re still going to do damage if you land on something or someone.”

And, the astrophysicist suggested that it was by “sheer luck” that no one had yet been hit and badly injured by space junk so far.

“We’re having such an accumulating rate of sending things into space and space junk there’s a worry that luck may end at some point.”

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As well as threatening life on Earth, Dr Tucker also suggested that a buildup in space debris could also prevent humans from exploring the Galaxy.

He explained: “This is the idea that we will reach a point where there is so much junk flying around that we will reach a point in space where there is so much junk flying around that when they collide, they break apart into more things.

“There’s this worry that there’s you can get this chain reaction where there’s so much junk that you can actually no longer exit the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Essentially once you go up, you’re going to hit something and you can no longer go into space, and that is a really big worry.”


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