Flintstone Stargazing

March 3, 2009

Why I dislike news about space junk

Filed under: astronomy — Tags: , , , — Ed @ 6:12 pm

I don’t rant often, really ever, on my blog, but I’ve seen something with so many news stories lately with the crash of the Iridium satellite and the Russian satellite that I’ve gotten somewhat fed up. Here’s an example what bugs me:

Satellites around the Earth (huge) Image from cnn.com

When you look at that image, it looks like space around the Earth is incredibly crowded. The problem, though, is scale. The diameter of the Earth is 7,926 miles. Which means that the 54 pixel high Earth in the image has a scale that (not accounting for things being closer or farther in the image) roughly translates to 146 miles per pixel. While many of the satellites are represented by more than one pixel, let’s assume that they are all one pixel. That means that what we’re seeing are thousands of 146+ mile-across satellites. Now I love massive space stuff as much as the next guy, but the ISS is (by a lot) the largest man-made thing in space. At it’s widest, it is around 350 feet. This is merely 1/2200th of 146 miles. The vast majority of satellites are around the size of a car, and generally a small car at that. The largest satellites (other than the ISS) are around the size of a bus. I understand that they are trying to illustrate a point – how many objects are orbiting the Earth – but the graphics convey other information so wrongly and powerfully that whatever their initial point, what people take away is incorrect. Here is what they should show instead:

satellite2 The Earth, with all of its man-made satellites

Okay, rant over…



  1. Hi Ed,
    just a small correction that stresses your point even more. The diameter of the Earth is ~7,926 miles (at the equator) not 3,963… that’s the radius.
    Couldn’t agree with you more!

    Comment by Ricardo — March 4, 2009 @ 5:24 am

  2. D’oh! You are correct and I have corrected the post.

    Comment by Ed — March 4, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

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