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(Space) Junk science

Andrew Freedman @ 4:00 AM

A minority of Americans, according to a recent poll, believes that space junk and not greenhouse gases are to blame for global climate change.

Two percent of respondents to a New York Times/CBS News poll said that the thousands of pieces of debris that are orbiting the planet from decades of space exploration are causing warming. This is just behind the four percent of people who believe it's due to biblical prophecy, but tied with those who blame El Nino. While the number may be small, it's still odd.

Jason Samenow's Forecast

Nice Day StampToday: Mostly sunny, pleasant. Highs 71-75.
Tonight: Clear. Lows 44-49 (suburbs-city)
Tomorrow: Partly to mostly sunny, warm. Highs 79-83.

A detailed week ahead forecast will appear tomorrow.

Space junk-induced warming (junkoprogenic warming?) is an interesting theory that may soon have NASA pouring billions into a giant orbiting trash can, similar to what they're already doing with the International Space Station.

According to the April 27 New York Times write up of the poll results, three fourths of respondents also said that the weather has been stranger than usual, which is an increase of 10 percentage points from 1997.

It's also a terrible indicator of climate shifts. Everyone perceives weather differently, and detecting long term shifts in the course of everyday experiences is difficult. Climate is, after all, the average of weather. For example, if you ask someone on a warm day in February if the weather has been strange, they're likely to say "yes, yes it has. Thanks for asking." But asking someone on a more seasonable day may elicit a different response. "No, I don't think so. Didn't you ask me this yesterday?"

From the poll text it appears that space junk was an answer choice offered to respondents, which is better than having two percent of respondents come up with that answer on their own. Either way it's troubling for science communication professionals, but encouraging for those who practice creative fiction science writing. Such as Michael Crichton, for example.

Space junk is a tempting scapegoat. The notion that right now, miles and miles above your head, there is trash orbiting the earth, is infuriating. It's downright intolerable. The orbital leftovers must be doing something detrimental, other than increasing the risk of injury for astronauts on space walks.

Maybe the two percent of respondents are right, and space junk is trapping heat inside the earth's atmosphere... or reflecting heat... or hitting the sun and causing it to shine brighter. Or perhaps the trash is just being suspicious.

A firm space junk link would be good news to all of the space recycling advocates who have struggled to get attention and funding for their crusade.

"Let's see here... rocket boosters go in the blue bin, and leaks from the Russian Space Station Mir go in the yellow one. Oh man, the yellow one is always full."

The bottom line message: let's clean up space now, so we don't have to clean up here on earth.

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