Why we don’t know exactly what happened during a near-collision in space

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Space traffic experts tracked two pieces of orbital garbage that appeared to be careening toward each other on Thursday night: a defunct Soviet satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket booster. Ultimately, the two objects narrowly missed each other, according to private space-tracking company LeoLabs.LeoLabs, which uses its own ground-based radars to track spaceborne objects, put the odds of collision at 10% or greater. That’s high, but not uncommon, LeoLabs CEO Daniel Ceperley told CNN Business on Thursday.But the U.S. military, which uses data from the world’s largest network of radars and telescopes, said that its space traffic control team detected a “nearly zero percent probability of collision.”In response, LeoLabs’s Ceperley said in a statement Friday morning: “We obviously have a great deal of respect for the (U.S. military’s) 18th Space Control Squadron and their estimates. Nobody is disputing that these objects came close to one another.”Meanwhile, Moriba Jah, an astrodynamicist at the University of Texas at Austin who has long been trying to raise public awareness about the abundance of junk in Earth’s orbit at constant risk of colliding, said the ordeal was only the latest piece of evidence that the world needs an internationally …

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