There are an estimated 500,000 pieces of space junk orbiting Earth ranging in size from a bolt, to dead satellites, to debris from exploded rockets. Even a bolt, traveling about 20,000 mph, could destroy a satellite or spacecraft.

In 1978, NASA scientist Donald Kessler predicted the time would come when the ring of debris around the Earth would become so dense that space flight would prove impossible. This time may not be far off. The most vital orbit is at 22,000 miles, or geosynchronous orbit, where a satellite’s orbit matches that of the Earth and remains stationary above the Earth and is vital to the communications industry.

A recent upsurge in the development of microsatellites small as a nickel has only exacerbated the problem. The only solution is constant monitoring, and the military has developed the Space Surveillance Telescope that can spot objects as small as a softball. This ground-based telescope will be added to the surveillance arsenal already in place and monitor space debris as well as asteroids.

It will be transferred to Australia shortly to better its efficiency.

Focus on the planets

All of the major planets with the exception of Jupiter appear in the night sky.

Mercury passing on the far side of the sun will not make an appearance until the very end of the month when it will hover above the southwestern horizon joined by a 1-day-old moon to its upper right.

Venus starts November fairly low on the southwestern horizon 45 minutes after sunset and climbs steadily throughout the month. Venus sets a couple of hours after the sun to open the month with this time increasing to three hours by its end.

Mars is in the south as darkness falls where it appears as a featureless orange blob even with optical aid because of its great distance. Look for the waxing crescent moon near Mars on the evenings of Nov. 5 and 6.

Jupiter rises in the southeast about two and a half hours before dawn making it the sole morning planet. Jupiter’s equatorial bands, the Great Red Spot, and its dancing moons should be on full display.

Saturn starts the month just to the right of Venus about a half-hour after sunset. Saturn is low on the southwestern horizon and sets earlier each night making viewing of its rings and other features particularly difficult.

Uranus is highest around midnight in the south among the stars of Pisces. Its blue-green disk should be easily visible with binoculars.

Neptune is highest among the stars of Aquarius at twilight. Look for its blue-gray disk as darkness deepens. The October issue of Sky & Telescope has a finders chart to aid in locating these far distant planets.

November events

1 Sunrise, 7:13 a.m.; sunset, 5:24 p.m.

2 Look to the southwest about an hour after sunset to find the crescent moon with Saturn directly below and Venus, the brilliant “Evening Star” to the left of its much fainter neighbor.

5 Jupiter is well up on the southwestern horizon an hour before sunrise, while nightfall finds Mars to the lower left of the moon.

6 First Sunday in November. Set your clocks back an hour as we return to Standard Time.

7 Moon in first quarter, 2:51 p.m.

14 Full moon, 8:52 a.m. The full moon of November is known as the Frost Moon or Snow Moon. The moon is also at perigee or closest approach to Earth; in fact, the closest approach in over 30 years. The combination of perigee and full moon will give rise to astronomically high tides.

15 Aldebaran is just to the upper left of the nearly full moon on the predawn western horizon.

17 This should be the peak night for the Leonid meteor shower, but the waning gibbous moon will wash out all but the brightest ones. Look for about 15 meteors per hour with the best viewing being about 3:00 a.m.

21 Moon in last quarter, 3:33 a.m. The sun enters the astrological sign of Sagittarius.

22 The sun enters the astronomical sign of Scorpius on the ecliptic.

25 Jupiter, the crescent moon and Spica form a neat triangle in the southwest an hour before sunrise.

27 The moon is at apogee or farthest distance from Earth.

29 New moon, 7:18 a.m. The sun enters the astronomical sign of Ophiuchus on the ecliptic.

30 Sunrise, 6:51 a.m.; sunset, 3:57 p.m.

Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at cgmewood@aol.com or care of the Bangor Daily News, Features Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, Maine 04402.