I was recently inspired to paint space debris in geostationary orbit around the Earth, using pointillism to represent the plethora of tracked objects in the sky as well as some of those too small for scientists to monitor.
Acrylic on canvas, 30″x30″
This painting depicts debris both in low Earth orbit (LEO), the thick fuzzy ring directly around the Earth, and geostationary Earth orbit (GEO), the wide outer rings.
Space debris, also known as orbital debris or space junk, is a problem the world’s leading nations are currently struggling to fix; the massive accumulated debris of old defunct satellites, broken and abandoned equipment, and the shards that form when these objects collide, all continuously orbiting the earth until they eventually lose momentum and fall back to Earth. If scientists do not successfully manage to clear the debris in space, future space travel will be very difficult, as the debris is flying through orbit at extremely high speeds. The National Research Council released a report in September warning scientists that the current levels of debris in geocentric orbit are at a “tipping point” at which the number of debris collisions will steadily increase, creating new pieces of debris and, in turn, creating more collisions, called a “collision cascade” by NASA scientist Don Kessler who predicted this would become a problem back in 1978.
In 2011, there are over 22,000 orbital objects being tracked by NASA; however, this only includes debris large enough to track, and there are over 500,000 pieces of debris that are larger than a marble but too small to track. It is estimated that the actual number of debris fragments is in the tens of millions.
I was looking at this computer rendering (credit: ESA) of the tracked objects currently in orbit around our planet, and I was both disgusted and awed- disgusted at the amount of trash we have managed to pollute our planet even beyond the atmosphere, and awed at how the debris forms pretty rings reminiscent of Saturn’s rings of ice and rock. It seems oddly fitting to me for humanity to reside on a planet ringed with trash.
The ESA diagram shows tracked objects only; I wanted to depict the debris as I imagined over tens of millions of pieces of junk floating around the Earth to look.