On April 5, 2021, the College of the Environment welcomed Moriba Jah, associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin, to present his lecture Near-Earth Space: The Lost Ecological Pleiad. The Earth has a number of ecosystems we can call an ecological Pleiades. To date, these ecological Pleiades have been constrained to the land, oceans, and air. However, there is an additional ecosystem, near-Earth space, which has yet to be globally acknowledged. To this end, Jah’s lecture focused on near-Earth space as a “lost” ecological Pleiad, comprised of “some abiotic objects such as micrometeoroids, a few humans in the Space Station, and a large number of anthropogenic space objects as a consequence of our technological developments.” In his lecture, Jah explored the known evolution of this Lost Pleiad, and underscored the need for its environmental protection.
Jah opened the lecture by giving context to the sheer number of human-made objects in Earth’s orbit. The assumed population of space objects is roughly half a million, ranging in size from a speck of paint to the International Space Station. Jah stressed that of that assumed half million, we can only measure about 30,000, and the total space population is unmeasurable with the precision of current instruments. He also noted that out of those potential 500,000 objects, only 3,500 are functioning, saying, “Much less than 1 percent of everything up there that we’re responsible for actually serves a purpose.”