Reprinted with permission from "Back Scatter," Physics Today, March 2007, page 100. Analysis and images, generated with the STK software package, courtesy of CSSI. Object sizes magnified for visibility. larger version
Before October 4, 1957, when Sputnik was launched, space above Earth was pristine. But now...take a look at the image above (larger version). The green dots show satellites in low Earth orbit in January, 2007. The red dots show debris pieces bigger than 5 cm across from China's 11 January 2007 demolition of its weather satellite in an anti-satellite missile test. To learn more, visit the Wikipedia site Space Debris.
(This feature was updated on July 28, 2011.)
Skylab Debris Hits Australian Desert; No Harm Reported
Visit Skylab Debris Hits Australian Desert; No Harm Reported for the New York Times' 1979 article on Skylab's fiery return to Earth over the Indian Ocean, with some debris falling on Australia. For a retrospective, also from the Times, see Remembering Skylab, the Space Station's Frugal Great-Uncle. Click to see largest piece of Skylab to reach Earth, now on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.