Climate change is apparently doing something weird to satellites

Ultimately, this is bad for everyone.

terrible atmosphere

According to a recent study, climate change caused by carbon dioxide is reducing Earth’s ability to self-clean its upper atmosphere, causing objects in close orbit, including satellites, to experience less drag and stay in orbit for longer. weather.

On the surface, that could be big news for satellite makers, who want working spacecraft to stay in orbit as long as possible. But there’s a problem: This inability to self-clean, as a result of excess CO2 eating away at the density of the upper atmosphere, also means dangerous and polluting space debris stays in orbit longer.

“Space debris is becoming a rapidly growing problem for satellite operators due to the risk of collisions,” Ingrid Cnossen, a researcher at the British Antarctic Survey and an author of the study, said in a statement, “that the long-term decline in At the top the density of the atmosphere is getting even worse.”

everyone’s problem

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Investigation Lettersused research models of the entire atmosphere to examine how its upper sphere, a region that spans altitudes between 56 and 310 miles from Earth’s surface, has changed over the past 50 years, and what those changes are likely to predict about the 50 come.

“The changes we saw between the climate in the upper atmosphere over the last 50 years,” the Cnossen statement continued, “and our predictions for the next 50 are the result of carbon dioxide emissions.”

Cnossen’s research confirms the belief that, despite their reputation for warming the Earth’s surface, greenhouse gases actually have the opposite impact on the atmosphere.

As those CO2 particles absorb the limited heat available there, the atmosphere shrinks and cools, in an effect that ultimately results in a smoother and longer orbit for satellites, plus the debris caused by old and defunct spacecraft. .

And while satellite makers may be happy to see some spacecraft sail comfortably longer than expected, ultimately everyone stands to lose if space debris gets even more out of hand. The new satellites will have a hard time working in what could become a near-orbiting junkyard, and humans, on the ground and in space, could face life-threatening consequences.

“I hope that this work will help guide appropriate actions to control the space pollution problem,” added Cnossen, “and ensure that the upper atmosphere remains a usable resource well into the future.”

READ MORE: Climate change keeps space debris afloat longer []

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