Space junk lands on farms

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Space junk lands on farms

The sky-watching world has been thrown into a spin this week with multiple reports of space debris falling onto Australian farms.

It is only logical that more satellites will come down as more satellites go up.

Mark Rigby, a former curator of the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium, agrees.

The number of operational satellites has doubled in the last 18 months. He said that's phenomenal.

If you're planning a space debris hunt, don't get your hopes up.

Most of our earth is covered in ocean. Most space junk comes down harmlessly, and a lot of space junk vaporizes before it reaches the surface of our planet, Mr Rigby said.

It sometimes lands in a cow paddock.

James Stirton discovered wreckage of a rocket on his family property in south-west Queensland near Quilpie in 2008.

He and his wife Sue took calls from all over the world and hosted visits from researchers keen to inspect the round fuel cell that landed near his cattle in the scrub.

The 2006 -- 047 - C space wreckage, officially named the 2006 -- 047 -- C, lived in a farm shed until the couple retired.

It is now on permanent display at Charleville's Cosmos Centre.

Mr Stirton, a pragmatic farmer, said his discovery did not lead to any further space-craft exploration on his property.

He said that it was during the drought years that we had plenty of other things to do.

I figured it would only happen once in my lifetime, so I never thought I'd find more space junk. A few years later, we found another one, he said.

Ms Stirton laughed, but I don't think we've ever told anyone about that second find.

A specialist project was launched at the University of Southern Queensland earlier this year focusing on space junk.

Fabian Zander, senior research fellow at the University of Southern Queensland, said that the University of Southern Queensland is beginning to see more and more of this stuff happening.

I'd like to see there's not too many more incidents like the SpaceX one, but we need a better understanding of the demise and dispersion of things that re-enter the atmosphere. He said that some non-functional satellites could come down anywhere, while most controlled re-entries aim for the space graveyard in the South Pacific.

The Earth's atmosphere expands and retracts slightly depending on the weather.

When something is orbiting the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the effect is marginally different, depending on the particular atmospheric conditions, and can't be predicted with any certainty at this stage. He said there was no need to worry about getting hit by zombie satellites when you stepped outside.

He said that there was only one person who's been hit by space junk.

A lady named Lottie Williams in the USA was hit by a piece on her shoulder, and it didn't hurt her at all. Rigby said that the recent findings might inspire people to go hunting for debris but the chances of finding it was pretty small. Even if you use satellite imagery to find those Skylab pieces that came down in 1979, the chances of finding them are no doubt still out there, you're trying to find things that might be a meter across or even smaller in a vast country.

He warned of the possible dangers.

There may be space junk that has come down that has some toxic material. It's quite common to contact authorities if you find something you think is space junk.

Before you go handling it, make sure it is checked out first. It still belongs to the originating country, Mr Rigby said.