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Brainiac

Big Data: Space junk at 17,5000 mph

(JohanSwanepoel/NASA)

17,500 mph: That’s how fast the cloud of space junk whirling around our planet is traveling. At speeds like that, a bit of junk as big as a quarter could punch through a spacecraft like a stick through a piñata. At the moment, there are about 17,000 pieces of space junk that the US military is worried enough about to track via a system of ground-based telescopes and laser radar units. Some boffins at MIT have just come up with a way to use those existing lasers to determine the type of material that each bit of junk is made of, which will allow for more precise calculations of momentum, velocity, and the danger they may pose to other objects aloft in orbit.