Earth could have its own rings like Saturn, but from space junk

Earth is on the way to having its own rings. Only they will be made of scrap metal », ensures Jake abbott, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah.

It is estimated that already there are 7,500 metric tons of space debris orbiting the Earth and that number will not stop increasing with the new space race in which we are immersed. Many researchers are working to find ways to collect all that junk, but Professor Abbott’s team has come up with a new one: magnets.

There are 7,500 metric tons of space junk.  (THIS)
There are 7,500 metric tons of space junk.

The launch of Russian Sputnik marked the start of the space race in 1957. Since then, according to ESA, they have been counted more than 29,000 pieces of garbage in space the size of a tennis ball, 670,000 the size of a marble, and about 178 million less than a centimeter.

But this figure does not stop growing due to the frenzied space activity that we have experienced in recent years.

The Trump Administration has already launched a national plan to fight orbital debris, recommending the implementation of spacecraft designs that limit the generation of new debris. He also recommended improving methods of tracking space debris and encouraged finding solutions to not only eliminate it, but also to find ways to reuse it.

And is that space junk It is not only a pollution problem, it is also a danger. Most of that junk travels at a speed of 20,600 km / h, six times the speed of a bullet. And it represents a risk, not only for astronauts and space travel, but for the entire satellite system, many of them, such as communications or GPS, vital for the functioning of our current society.

Musk says his Starship can 'eat' space junk.  (SpaceX)
Musk says his Starship can ‘eat’ space junk. (SpaceX)

If we do not find a solution to this problem, all that accumulated garbage can end up orbiting the Earth in groups and forming rings of junk, says Abbot, who together with his team is already working on a method to trap them with magnetic fields. Their research was recently published in an article in the journal “Nature”.

How does it work

Scientists say that although not all space junk is magnetic, it is electrically conductive. So they have created a system of magnets attached to a robotic arm that when rotating activates its own magnetic field to attract it. In this way, they can direct space debris to specific places, collect it and thus dispose of it.

This discovery is based on Abbot’s experience in the application of magnets for surgery. As this article from ‘The Salt Lake Tribune’ explains, the researcher spent several years working at the University of Zurich on a kind of microscopic submarine that, guided by magnets, could deliver drugs to the retina of the human eye. “It took years to develop, but the math we use is the foundation for everything we do now,” says Abbott.

The same system applied to the collection of space debris works with magnets that rotate at the end of some robotic arms creating some swirling magnetic currents which are known as eddy currents.

Scientist warns that Earth could develop rings like Saturn's, but made of space junk - RT
Earth might have its own rings, but from space junk.

“Most of that junk is spinning,” Abbott said. “If you try to get close to stop her with a robotic arm, you will break the arm and create even more debris.” But those twists, they claim, also cause electricity that magnets can use to slow down that junk, redirect it and collect it.

Although the model works on a theoretical level, it now needs to be put into operation in the real world. «Basically, we have created the world’s first tow ray“Says Abbott. “Now it is just a question of engineering. Build it and launch it.

This technology could be used by robots to move these parts without touching them and place them in a place where they do not imply danger for space missions that come out of our atmosphere.


Simone is one of the first four anchors hired by SnewsLog, which launched in August. When snewslog was acquired by PNC then Simone started working with People News Chronicle.

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