The ever-accumulating amount of Space debris has been a concern for astronomers and scientists for many decades now. However, Earth’s orbit on Thursday night is likely to get even more crowded and way more dangerous. The California-based tracking company LeoLabs has provided information about two big pieces of space junk which will make a close approach towards Earth’s orbit.
According to LeoLabs official website and Twitter handle, the latest findings of LeoLabs suggests that the space junk is likely to make a close approach at 8:56 pm EDT on Thursday, which is 6:26 am on Friday [IST]. The encounter will take place 616 miles or 991 kilometres above the South Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Antarctica. The probability of a collision between the objects is what poses a real threat on Earth. According to LeoLab, there is a more than 10 per cent chance that the objects will collide. The report termed this as "a scarily high number" because the "combined mass of the objects is about 6,170 lbs" or 2,800 kilograms.
1/ This event continues to be very high risk and will likely stay this way through the time of closest approach. Our system generates new conjunction reports 6-8x per day on this event with new observation data each time. pic.twitter.com/d3tRbcV2P0— LeoLabs, Inc. (@LeoLabs_Space) October 14, 2020
Both these objects will be zooming toward each other at a relative velocity of 32,900 mph (52,950 km/h). LeoLabs also posted Tweet stating, "a search mode scan" will confirm if a collision occurred during the close approach. The company has scheduled a search mode scan in order to ensure that they only see two objects as expected and also be able to confirm that there is no new debris accompanying them. In its tweet, LeoLabs termed this as an extremely “high-risk event.”
Astronomer, Jonathan McDowell recently posted a tweet stating that Thursday’s close approach is made by a Soviet navigation satellite called Parus (or Kosmos 2004) and a Chinese rocket stage. However, this is not the first time that we are witnessing an event like this. A NASA report on its official website mentioned that in the past the operational Iridium 33 collided with Russian military satellite Cosmos 2251.
The predicted close approach on Oct 16 involves a Soviet Parus navigation satellite and a Chinese rocket stage. Here is the Parus. It's a big satellite, about 800 kg, 2 metres in dia and it has a 17 metre long gravity gradient boom. pic.twitter.com/UezRGw3TOn— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) October 14, 2020
It was the most severe accidental fragmentation on record to date. In its report, NASA also revealed that more than 1800 debris approximately 10 cm and larger were produced. In addition to these big debris, clouds were also created on purpose during anti-satellite tests in 2007 and 2019 conducted by China and India.
According to NASA, Space debris encompasses both natural [meteoroid] and artificial [man-made] particles. Meteoroids are in orbit about the sun, while most artificial debris (satellites) are in orbit about the Earth. As a result of this categorisation, the latter is classified as orbital debris. NASA states that orbital debris is any man-made object in orbit of Earth that no longer serves a useful function. Hence, this will include nonfunctional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris and fragmentation debris.