Earlier this week, the internet worked itself into a frenzy over the “mysterious chunk of space trash” — actually a spent rocket fragment — that’s making an ominous but not-at-all dangerous homecoming on a Friday the 13th in November. Wonder what that terrifying cosmic garbage will look like before it burns up in orbit? Probably, a bit like one of these spent rocket fragments.

The images shown here are high-resolution scans of debris fragments recovered from the ill-fated Ariane 5 rocket that exploded over the European Space Agency’s spaceport in French Guiana on June 4th, 1996. Ariane was carrying four satellites comprising the ESA’s new Cluster mission, which was designed to measure Earth’s magnetic field and study its interactions with the solar wind. Following the first failed attempt, the mission was rebooted (successfully) in 2000. Fifteen years later, those second-gen Cluster satellites continue to make measurements of Earth’s magnetosphere.

We saw one of these fragments, which comprised part of an art installation commissioned by the ESA to dignify the untimely demise of Cluster One, earlier in the week. It was so striking we decided to reach out to the artist for more. The fragments shown below were restored and imaged by Sascha Mikloweit and placed on display at the ESA’s ESOC operations center last month. They’re a potent reminder that a little imagination can turn even the most spectacular failures into something beautiful.

And really, now that we’ve had a good hard look at some Grade-A space junk, maybe let’s all cool our jets on the Deep Impact-level panic.

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Images via Sascha Mikloweit and reproduced with permission. Check out more of his work on his website.

Follow the author @themadstone

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