Orbital View: Roll the Dice

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

There are 500,000 pieces of debris, or “space junk,” currently orbiting the Earth, at speeds to 17,500 miles per hour. Much of it is chunks of old technology. This summer, astronauts aboard the International Space Station temporarily sought shelter in a Soyuz spacecraft, which is attached to the orbital station, while a defunct Russian weather satellite whizzed by uncomfortably close.

Some of the space junk, however, is a bit more whimsical:

Игральные кости в космосе/ Dice in space #nasa_rus#Dice

A photo posted by @nasa_rus on

The die looks harmless, but in space it’s speed that matters, not size. In the past, NASA has had to replace space shuttle windows damaged by tiny flecks of paint flying about Earth’s orbit.

Update: A reader points out on Twitter that the die belongs to NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman:

his first spacewalk a few months after this photo was taken, in October 2014. So, the die isn’t space junk, and assuming so was my mistake. The photo remains a great one.