The idea of two enormous defunct satellites crashing may sound like the plot from a science fiction blockbuster, but it almost become a reality last night.
Two big pieces of space junk narrowly avoided a collision at 01:56 BST last night, much to the relief of worried astronomers.
The close encounter took place 616 miles above the South Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Antarctica, according to tracking company LeoLabs.
LeoLabs tracked the objects, and confirmed that they did not crash this morning.
LeoLabs tweeted: “No indication of collision. CZ-4C R/B passed over LeoLabs Kiwi Space Radar 10 minutes after TCA. Our data shows only a single object as we’d hoped, with no signs of debris. “
The objects were a defunct Soviet satellite called Parus, and a Chinese rocket stage, with a combined mass of around 2,800kg.
Considering they were barrelling towards each other at a velocity of around 32,900 mph, a collision could have been catastrophic.
According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer from the Centre for Astrophysics, a collision would have resulted in a ‘significant’ increase in low Earth orbit (LEO) space junk.
While the event wouldn’t have affected us here on Earth, it could have had serious repercussions for satellites, as well as the International Space Station.
NASA explained: “Most ‘space junk’ is moving very fast and can reach speeds of 18,000 miles per hour, almost seven times faster than a bullet.
“Due to the rate of speed and volume of debris in LEO, current and future space-based services, explorations, and operations pose a safety risk to people and property in space and on Earth.
This wouldn’t have been the first time that two large pieces of space junk collided.
Back in 2009, a communications satellite collided with a defunct Russian military satellite, resulting in 1,800 pieces of debris.