Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oh great, something else to worry about


Tom and I watched the movie Gravity this past weekend. He'd seen it before and wanted me to view it.

Spectacular special effects, but I can't say I was taken by the film. Just a lot of non-stop smashing and not much human drama other than the usual pop fare. For my taste, I much preferred director Alfonso Cuarón's previous film, the Mexican coming-of-age road movie Y Tu Mamá También.

What I liked best about Gravity was learning afterwards from Tom about the Kessler syndrome, the cascading collisions of satellites and space debris that provides the driving plot of the movie.

Low Earth orbits are now so crowded with active and defunct satellites and other junk that one catastrophic shattering collision could set off a chain reaction that would wrap the Earth in a shroud of fine debris that could render space inaccessible for generations.
Not to mention the devastating disruptions of life on the ground if all active low-orbiting satellites were lost.

I suppose I had heard about this before as part of the background noise, but it never firmly registered on my consciousness. What is the critical density of orbiting objects that makes the Kessler effect likely? Are we there yet?

But think of the spectacular nights of "shooting stars" as bits and pieces of all those pulverized objects rain to Earth.