Space Junk

"A Brightly Lit Killing Field..."

A wrap-up in Washington, DC of a series of talks dealing with the problems in modern-day astronomy of light pollution, radio interference and space debris. Much of the information has been pondered for two decades now.. But, the eloquence with which the problems were presented, are daunting.

On the problem of the ever-increasing numbers of space debris particles, any of which could wreak havoc on spacecraft and kill our astronauts, catch light, and are even now streaking all of the photographs taken at Mt. Palomar, Sydney van den Bergh of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory said, "I feel really scared about the space debris problem. Thirty years ago, no one thought the oceans could be polluted. Now look at what we've done. A 1-mm particle of space debris can puncture a spacesuit. Space debris itself, and the light it produces, could end our space program in 30 years. We are creating a brightly lit killing field."

Of radio interference, Tomas Gergely of the National Science Foundation said, "If you call for a paramedic, you don't want a pizza to arrive. The electromagnetic fog of low-level interference is increasing rapidly and causing major problems. If not curbed, it will prevent us from reaching the edge of the Universe. Even the idea of using the dark side of the Moon for radio work is questionable - the worst polluters are better funded than we are, and will probably get there first."

Dr. David Crawford, astronomer at Kitt Peak National Observatory, and President of the IAU's Commission on the Protection of Observatory Sites, says of light pollution, "We must learn about better lighting. Neither the birds nor the astronauts need all the light we are throwing up into space. At least $1.3 billion a year is spent in the USA on electricity that is wasted to light up the night sky. This is more than the entire budget for astronomy in the USA. Generations of children are growing up having never seen the Milky Way simply because they can't. We are creating a permanent twilight."

Credits: Gail S. Cleere - U.S. Naval Observatory

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