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Lasers in the crosshairs of scientists, could potentially help blast space trash

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Space junk sent the movie Gravity on a crash coarse with 10 Academy Award nominations –– and seven wins –– but scientists may be turning to lasers in the near future to blast the real life cosmic trash out of obit with the hopes of avoiding a potentially “catastrophic” sequence of collisions, according to a report today from Reuters.

Scientists at the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics have been working on the project, which director Matthew Colless said could be a go in the next decade.

“It's important that it's possible on that scale because there's so much space junk up there,” Colless said. “We're perhaps only a couple of decades away from a catastrophic cascade of collisions ... that takes out all the satellites in low orbit.”

Astronomers estimate there are more than 300,000 screws, parts of rockets and other space debris flying around the earth at tremendous speeds in low orbits, which could wreak havoc on satellites, which would cause chain reaction.

Eventually, however, the hope is to use to zap the pieces of space trash in a way that they burn up as they fall through the earth’s atmosphere.

The Austrialian government, according to the report, has already partnered with NASA to use the Mount Stromlo Observatory to track and map the space junk with an infrared laser while also giving $20 million to the Cooperative Research Center.

Along with another $40 million in private investment, the CRC would develop better lasers to track the smaller pieces of debris, which Colless said would then get zapped without putting working satellites in danger.

"There's no risk of missing and hitting a working satellite," Colless said. "We can target them precisely. We really don't miss."