Trivia

Hard

Kessler Syndrome Is An Astronomy Theory That Predicts?

Earth Orbits Will Become Unusable
Humans Will Never Leave Earth
The Moon Will Collide With Earth
The Sun's Core Will Destabilize
A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked.
NASA/Wikimedia

Answer: Earth Orbits Will Become Unusable

The space immediately around Earth is littered with garbage, literally millions upon millions of pieces of it. Since the space race kicked off in the mid-20th century, the numerous rocket tests, satellite launches, shuttle missions, orbital trips, and lunar missions have surrounded the Earth with a veritable sphere of trash. There are an estimated 170 million pieces of debris smaller than a centimeter, another 670,000 pieces ranging from 1-10 centimeters in size, and 29,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters orbiting the Earth.

While the very existence of all this space junk is already problematic to current space missions (all those little bits and pieces in space speed around the Earth like tiny, and not so tiny bullets, ready to crash into operational satellites and spacecraft), there’s a potentially bigger problem looming on the horizon: Kessler Syndrome. Back in 1978, NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler—an early and respected scientist in the field of space debris research and analysis—proposed a particularly unpleasant outcome to the rising volume of space debris.

Kessler argued that eventually there would be enough space debris that it would begin colliding together, creating a cascade effect where the increasing amount of space debris caused by the initial collisions would in turn cause more space debris. Eventually, this would render entire orbital zones around the Earth uninhabitable, if you will, to satellites and spacecraft for generations to come. Although Kessler Syndrome will not, as has been proposed in science-fiction works and by the popular press, ever end with humanity being trapped on Earth for want of free space to blast our spaceships through, it will potentially make satellite use and local space exploration very dangerous for a very long time.

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