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Space Junk in 3D

Computer generated image of space junk orbiting the Earth.
A CGI snapshot of the space junk orbiting high above our heads in low-Earth orbit. Image courtesy Space Junk 3D website.

When we think of space, very little thought is given to the millions of pieces of space debris that orbits 22,000 miles above the Earth, which threaten the International Space Station and future plans for space tourism. Now, a new 38-minute 3D film highlights this issue with a story about orbital junk.

"It's a cutting edge science story and is one that hasn't really been told beforeā€¦ it's a story that really demonstrated something that, I think, most people don't think about; that is, how deeply we're connected to space," said Melissa Butts, director of Space Junk 3D, in an interview behind the making of the new film.

Space junk or space debris are man-made objects launched into space over the past 60 years that orbit close to the Earth and no longer serve any useful purpose. They are composed of spent rocket fuselages, satellites, and even paint. There are millions of pieces of debris zooming high above our heads in low-Earth orbit at hyper-velocity speeds of about four and a half miles per second (around seven kilometers per second).

When various pieces collide with each other, more pieces are created in a cascading effect. There are tens of thousands of objects larger than 10 cm that pose a potential collision risk to orbiting satellites and spacecraft. Butts said she hopes her film will raise public awareness. "There's a will to find solutions on how to clean up space," she said.

The new Space Junk 3D film will show audiences for the first time what this debris field looks like using real scientific data and the latest 3D graphics. The film features data-driven scientific visualizations created by the US National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) Advanced Vizualization Laboratory (AVL) at the University of Illinois.

Space Junk 3D was released in the US on Friday, 13 January 2012. It will be shown on IMAX screens and other giant screen theaters globally in 2D and 3D.

To view the film trailer follow this link.

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