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Crowd-source snaps of falling space debris


15 July 2014

Artist impression of space junk
Artist impression of space junk

Australian researchers who are designing robotic rovers capable of searching for fallen space debris are asking people to share images or videos that they may have captured during last Thursday evening 's skyfall.

University of Sydney robotics researchers in conjunction with scientists at Curtin University believe the images or videos could help program a rover 's ability to track the why, when and where of a space junk movements.

The team is developing a search tool that combines knowledge of fallen space debris based on ground tracking and images taken, with intelligent rovers that aim to continuously search potential hot spots.

Salah Sukkarieh,Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Sydney, and the Director of Research and Innovation at the University 's Australian Centre for Field Robotics, says: "Any images captured along with the time and location they were taken, would assist in the research project."

Anecdotally we know people reported on talkback radio that they saw a bright object travelling east to north about 9.45pm last Thursday night. Many initially thought the object was a burning plane, an asteroid or a comet.

Fellow researcher Phil Bland, Professor of Applied Geology at Western Australia 's Curtin University says -

"No-one has tracked debris, determined a fall position, and recovered it before."

Prior to joining Curtin University Professor Bland was director of the Impacts and Astromaterials Research Centre at Imperial College London.

"There are useful data we can get from folks, even if they don 't have a photo or video," says Professor Bland.

Bland 's team has developed a smartphone app - 'fireballs in the sky '- that lets people record all the details of a fireball that the scientists need to work out where something landed.

"If you can remember roughly where it was in the sky, download the app and go through the steps to record it, 'he says.

Last week 's fireball known as "object 40077" was the third stage of the Soyuz rocket which was launched from Kazakhstan on 8 July. It reportedly plummeted to Earth at 29,000 kilometers per hour.

In 1979 remnants of the USA Skylab space station hurtled to earth from orbit and scattered its remains across the Australian outback.

Agencies that monitor space debris estimate there are at least 21,000 orbiting objects 10 cm or larger currently circling the Earth, at least 500,000 in the 1 to 10 cm range, and more than 100 million smaller than 1 cm

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Victoria Hollick, T 9351 2579, 0401 711 361 victoria.hollick@sydney.edu.au