SYDNEY, July 19 (Xinhua) -- The same radio transmissions that Australians listen to in their cars will now be used to track space junk in the earth's orbit, in an Australian first technique launched in the State of Western Australia (WA) on Thursday.
Space junk is a term for "all the bits and pieces left over from all the rocket launches over the last four decades, which have accumulated in the Earth's orbit," project lead scientist, Prof. Steven Tingay from Curtin University told Xinhua.
Using radio telescopes at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in outback WA, and existing FM transmissions from around the country, scientists can track the reflections off objects in space.
"Obviously those FM transmissions make their way to our car radios and that's how we listen to music and whatever," Tingay explained, "but a lot of that radio wave energy is transmitted into space, and a very small fraction of it is reflected off space junk."
"We can detect that reflected signal with our radio telescope and track where it is in the sky, using that information to give some level of warning about possible collisions."
Space junk collisions are a very expensive concern for any operation with technology in use in the earth's atmosphere.
"Back in 2009 there was a very impressive collision between two very large objects," Tingay said, "one was an old non-operational Russian satellite and one was an active communications satellite."
The objects, which were travelling at over 42,000 km per hour, were destroyed and thousands of pieces of new debris were scattered into Earth's orbit.
While conventional optical methods for tracking space debris are only possible at night and without cloud cover, radio waves can be used at all times of day and regardless of weather.
By utilizing FM signals which are already there, the method saves money and acts as an early warning system for the trillions of dollars worth of technology in Earth's orbit which we rely on for our daily lives.