Pop music finally put to good use tracking space junk

The dipole antennas of the Murchison Widefield Array radio telescope can pick up reflections from up to 620 miles away.

(Credit: Murchison Widefield Array)

Australian broadcaster Triple J plays a mix of pop and alternative tunes that are being recruited to serve science — by helping track space junk orbiting above us.

The station is among FM broadcasters whose signals are bouncing off decaying satellites and other debris and into the giant “ear” that is the Murchison Widefield Array in Western Australia.

The high sensitivity of the radio telescope launched earlier this year allows it to detect objects smaller than 1 meter (3.2 feet), according to its director Steven Tingay of Curtin University. Tingay wants to use the array to improve knowledge of the thousands of bits of scrap that may threaten working satellites.

FM radio transmitters send waves over the Earth but also into space, where they bounce off satellites and space junk. Some of those waves get reflected back to Earth.

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