Salt Lake City, Utah-According to NASA, there are more than 27,000 pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth.
The space agency stated that junk flying at speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour is enough to damage satellites or spacecraft.
Therefore, Professor Jake Abbott of the University of Utah and his team of engineers have been studying a way to use magnets to clean up space debris.
"We have figured out how to quickly spin magnets around these objects, then apply force and torque to these objects, and use magnetic fields to actually manipulate them, even if they are not made of magnetic metal," Abbott said.
To test their research, the team used a series of magnets to move the copper balls on the plastic raft in the water tank.
The magnet not only moves the sphere into a square, but also rotates the sphere.
With this technology, a robot can one day move garbage to a decaying orbit, where it will burn when it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, or move it to farther space without even physically touching it.
Abbott said: "We have to figure out how to get these objects out of space, because currently, we put them into space faster than they naturally fall."
Scientists can also use this new knowledge to prevent a damaged satellite from rotating to repair it.
This method also allows scientists to manipulate very fragile objects.
Although the robot arm may damage some space junk because its claws will exert force on a part of it, and these magnets will exert force on the whole object, so the pressure distribution to move it is more even.
NASA tracks thousands of space debris just like air traffic controllers track airplanes.
"They are tracking the most dangerous objects because they don't want them to hit valuable things like the space station," the university professor said.
It is hoped that NASA will use this research to begin the process of removing space junk from Earth orbit.
"If we are not careful, these pieces will eventually fall into the space station," Abbott said.
You can read a copy of the research paper here, and you can read Professor Abbott's more detailed comments here.