What’s Orbiting Earth
I saw this image on CNN earlier today and went searching through the European Space Agency archives for it. It’s a great artist’s conception of the extent of material that humans have lofted into near-Earth space. Ever since we started sending up satellites in 1957, the number of objects — which includes satellites but also cameras and gloves and pieces of collided satellites and other oddments — has increased. Today there are about 12,500 things out there at various altitudes from the surface. This makes calculating safe launch times a complex matter. The objects in this depiction are not shown to scale — their sizes are exaggerated to make them visible.
Seeing this kind of begs an interesting question. With its ever-increasing supply of “stuff” orbiting around it, does this make Earth a ringed planet? The classical (canonical) definition of a planetary ring is a ring of cosmic dist and small particles in orbit around a planet in a flat, disc-shaped region. If that’s what we accept, then Earth’s “ring” could be termed an “artificial ring” (sort of the same way that we call Pluto a dwarf planet (it’s a planet, but a special case of a planet)). What do you think?
I’m sort of reminded of the early concepts of a Dyson shell, which was a very thin shell consisting of orbiting power satellites that would capture a star’s energy output and channel it for a civilization’s needs. Or, more correctly, perhaps this is Earth’s Dyson Shell and its Dyson Ring. Only instead of power, much of the structure is handling our communications needs (among other things).