On the night of Jan. 29, two dead satellites headed toward each other 560 miles above Pittsburgh. Space is vast, but orbit isn’t, and estimates placed the satellites at no more than 60 feet apart, roughly the length of two full-size school buses, as they passed. In the event of a collision, the blast would leave behind a cloud of debris, a hazardous gauntlet for other geosynchronous travelers that would threaten for years until gravity cleared the mess.
As details about the size, shape and paths of the satellites emerged, estimates of a collision ranged from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 20.
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