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Space Age Archaeology

An archaeological perspective on orbital stratigraphy

11 Aug 2019, 00:30 UTC
An archaeological perspective on orbital stratigraphy
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One of the things I've been thinking about for a while is the the structure of the archaeological record of Earth orbit - all the spacecraft that have been launched over the last 60 years, and their decay products, fragments and molecules of Earth-manufactured materials. Something people ask me occasionally is how you can do archaeology when there is no stratigraphy. In terrestrial archaeology, everything eventually falls to the ground and becomes buried as winds, water and human activities erode higher places and move the sediment to lower places. Generally, the deeper you dig, the older the remains that you find.This isn't how it works in Earth orbit. Everything's falling, for sure - but a large proportion of stuff never reaches the ground. It's all up there, the new mixed up with the old, the functioning with the defunct, the living with the dead. It's not a mirror of stratigraphy on Earth. The lower something is says nothing about how recent it is.With one exception - everything in geostationary orbit is younger than 1963, when Syncom 3 became the first satellite to successfully reach this critical orbit, the importance of which for telecommunications had been predicted since the early 20th ...

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