The European Space Agency (ESA) in Paris has just released computer generated images of space junk floating around Earth. The images are intended to provide a realistic picture of the space junk that is actually floating around in space.
More than 12,000 pieces of space junk is orbiting around Earth. At least 11,500 of those are in low Earth orbit, which means they’re at an altitude of between 800 and 1,500 km. This is where most commercial, military, scientific and navigational satellites operate.
Space junk that orbits at this altitude will eventually burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, but this could take decades. It’s rare that space junk crashes to Earth but it can (and does) happen. Most of the time space junk lands in the ocean or in isolated stretches of land.
The following image depicts the 11,500 pieces of space junk in low Earth orbit:
As well as the space junk orbiting in low Earth orbit, there’s at least 1,147 pieces in geostationary orbit. This is where it orbits in the direction of the Earth’s rotation, at an altitude of approximately 35,786km. This altitude is where telecommunication satellites usually operate.
With more than 600 satellites in orbit, the amount of space junk is increasing by at least 200 per year.
Space junk is usually created through collisions, explosions and lost or discarded material from space flights and rockets.