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Fourth echelon

The Internet wants a laser mounted on the space station

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TOKYO, May 19 (UPI) -- A proposal to mount a laser on the International Space Station is finding support among Internet users. A glut of articles about the possible plan to vaporize space junk proliferated across trending news feeds on Tuesday, nearly a month after scientists at Japan's RIKEN research institute went public with the idea.

The strange (and seemingly unlikely) plan is an attempt to solve a real problem -- too much space junk. Astronomers estimate there's currently 3,000 tons of debris in low Earth orbit. The junk (mostly discontinued satellites) occupies an area of near space running from 100 to 1,250 miles above the planet's surface. Space junk collisions can spawn smaller fragments that can lead a domino effect of smash-ups.

While chunks of space trash with a diameter less than 0.4 inches are mostly harmless, anything larger can inflict damage on satellites and spacecraft like ISS. Scientists believe there are some 700,000 pieces of debris big enough to do damage. Scientists say a laser could be used to protect the space station from hard-to-detect debris.



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