Visualizations Show the Extensive Cloud of Debris Russia’s Anti-Satellite Test Created

Satellite trackers have been working overtime to figure out just how much dangerous debris Russia created when it destroyed one of its own satellites early Monday -- and the picture they've painted looks bleak. Multiple visual simulations of Russia's anti-satellite, or ASAT, test show a widespread cloud of debris that will likely menace other objects in orbit for years. The Verge reports: It's going to take weeks or even months to fully understand just how bad the situation is, but early visualizations of the ASAT test created by satellite trackers show an extensive trail of space debris left in the wake of the breakup. The fragments appear like a dotted snake in orbit, stretching out and moving in roughly the same direction that Kosmos 1408 used to move around Earth. And there's one thing the visualizers agree on: this snake of debris isn't going anywhere anytime soon. "There will be some potential collision risk to most satellites in [low Earth orbit] from the fragmentation of Cosmos 1408 over the next few years to decades," LeoLabs, a private space tracking company in the US, wrote in a blog post. Two visualizations created by the European Union's Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) network and space software company AGI reveal what likely happened in the first moment of impact when Russia's missile intercepted Kosmos 1408. They both show how the debris cloud grew instantly and spread throughout space. AGI's simulation also shows just how close the cloud comes to intersecting with the International Space Station, validating NASA's concerns and the agency's decision to have the astronauts shelter in place. Another visualization created by Hugh Lewis, a professor of engineering at the University of Southampton specializing in space debris, shows just how widely the debris from Kosmos 1408 has spread out in space. Lewis explains that when Russia's missile hit the satellite, each of the fragments that were created got a little kick, sending them to higher and lower altitudes. Each piece is moving at a different speed depending on the height of its orbit. Lewis says that the cloud will continue to morph over time. The debris fragments in the lower orbits will fall to Earth and out of orbit more quickly, while the ones in higher orbits will stay in space much longer.

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