Most spacecraft, including the International Space Station, can withstand impacts from debris smaller than about 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) with adequate shielding. However, ground-based radar and computer models suggest that more than 700,000 pieces of debris larger than 0.4 inches now orbit Earth. Although items larger than 4 inches (10 cm) are big enough for astronomers to spot, debris between 0.4 and 4 inches (1 to 10 cm) in size is significantly more difficult to identify and dodge.
Now researchers suggest the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO), scheduled to be installed on Japan's module on the space station in 2017, could help the orbiting complex detect dangerous debris. They add that a powerful laser under development could then help shoot down this space garbage.
"The EUSO telescope, which was originally designed to detect cosmic rays, could also be put to use for this useful project," study lead author Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, an astrophysicist and chief scientist at the RIKEN (Rikagaku Kenky?sho) Computational Astrophysics Laboratory in Wako, Japan, told Space.com.