Satellites that are close to Earth are subjected to the residual atmosphere, which gradually slows them down and eventually causes them to return to the planet, sending them to burn up in the atmosphere, according to a report by Space.com.
Satellites are falling and collapsing ten times faster than they were previously.
This sequence of events has coincided with the start of the new solar cycle and resulted in satellites falling and crashing up to ten times faster than before, an impressive increase by all accounts.
"In the first five or six years, the satellites were sinking about two and a half kilometers [1.5 miles] a year," said ESA's Swarm mission manager. "But since December last year, they have been virtually falling."
Our precious life-giving sun has been increasing since last fall, generating more and more solar wind, sunspots, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections that have all had a significant impact on Earth's upper atmosphere. All of this is a result of the star's 11-year solar cycle.
This reaction, however, can be dangerous for our satellites.
Stromme said the upper layers of the atmosphere are still unrecognized because to the interaction with the solar wind. "We know that this interaction results in a rise in the atmosphere. That means that the thinner air travels upwards to higher altitudes."
Denser air always results in increased rocket velocity, which can result in some of the lesser-orbiting spacecraft crashing to their final failure.
"It's almost like running with the wind against you," Stromme said. "It's harder, it's drag, so it slows the satellites down, and when they slow down, they sink."
This situation is bound to affect all spacecraft located near the 250-mile mark, according to the researcher. But what about common satellites that aren't equipped to undertake such operations?
"Many of these [new satellites] don't have propulsion systems," Stromme said. "They don't have methods to get up." That basically means that they'll have a shorter lifetime in orbit. They'll return sooner than they would during the solar minimum."
Space junk will vanish!
However, the one positive aspect of this situation is that space junk will likely be cleared out.For sixty years, humans have been launching things to space, posing a challenge of cleaning up space debris.
Now, this solar phenomenon might just haul most of the junk out of space!