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1 Apr, 2009 09:10

US State panics over space junk

People in the US State of Virginia have been left mystified by explosions and flashes of light in the sky. Some claim it was only a meteor shower – but others think there's something else behind the light show.

The falling objects turned out to be space debris from the second stage of the Russian Soyuz rocket launch. However, the bright flashes and ‘fireworks’ in the sky prompted Virginia residents to panic and call 911. However, the debris shower did not cause any harm.

Space junk is nothing new. About two and a half months ago a Russian and a US satellite collided in orbit. This brought to light the issue of a potential cluttering of Earth’s orbit.

Another factor brought into perspective deals with nuclear isotopes and reactors which are found on those satellites. Although potentially harmless, their sheer presence and slight chance of accidentally finding a way back down to Earth has concerned some.

An international space treaty, which came into force in 1967, dictates the basic rules for space exploration, as well as space littering. In simple terms it states that it’s fair game for everybody.

In addition, the treaty names all astronauts as ‘envoys of mankind’ destined to represent all residents of Earth in space. They should also be held responsible for any damage their space objects cause.

Nevertheless, this does not apply in the case with the two satellites, since neither of them was being piloted manually. The same goes for the falling space debris in Virginia. The only things damaged were people’s nerves.