Scientists Spot Space Junk With Lasers In Broad Daylight

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    Researchers from the Institute for Space Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences have developed a technique in which lasers can measure the position of space debris during daylight conditions. Details of this unprecedented achievement were published in Nature Communications. Gizmodo reports: Prior to this, lasers could only detect space junk during twilight, as ground stations enter into darkness and objects near the horizon remain illuminated by the Sun’s rays. This small window of opportunity severely minimizes the amount of time available to search for and characterize these orbiting objects, which can threaten crucial satellites. “We are used to the idea that you can only see stars at night, and this has similarly been true for observing debris with telescopes, except with a much smaller time window to observe low-orbit objects,” explained Tim Flohrer, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, in an ESA press release. “Using this new technique, it will become possible to track previously ‘invisible’ objects that had been lurking in the blue skies, which means we can work all day with laser ranging to support collision avoidance.” The new technique differs from conventional methods in that it can track objects during daylight hours, which it does using a combination of telescopes, light deflectors, and filters that track light at specific wavelengths. So even when the sky is bright and blue, scientists can increase a target’s contrast, making previously invisible objects visible. Keys to this method include additional telescopes and the ability to visualize space debris against the blue sky background in real-time. In daylight tests, the distances to 40 different objects were measured with the new technique, which had never been done before. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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