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6 Ways to Clean Up Space

A fascinating article in this month's Wired magazine says we're not only screwing up our own environment, we're also polluting space (big surprise, right?). Apparently there's so much garbage (some 15,000 pieces of debris) stuck in Earth's orbit that some Scientists think future space travel might be a problem if something isn't done about it soon. According to Wired, there are 6 ways to clean up the mess, which I'll reprint after the jump. But seeing as you all always have such amazing ideas, I thought it would be fun to see what you come up with? Got a better idea about how to collect a 10-ton rocket stage? Calling all back-seat rocket scientists...

6 Ways to Clean Up Space

1. Aerogel
NASA already uses this superlight, polystyrene-like material to capture space dust for study. So, some scientists suggest, why not send massive, multipaned panels of aerogel into orbit to accumulate smaller pieces of space waste like bugs on a windshield? Once saturated with crap, the swaths of goo could be rocketed into the atmosphere.

2. Lasers
Orbiting light cannons are possible but probably decades off (plus, there are diplomatic concerns). But scientists offer as a viable option ground-based lasers to disrupt the orbit of errant objects, causing them to plummet. Targeting would be handled by new supersensitive radar capable of tracking orbiting debris as small as 1 centimeter in diameter.

3. Collector Barge
Engineers at the Uni versity of Arizona propose that an unmanned barge use radar and cameras to home in on objects, then deploy robot arms to snatch them up. Once clutched, items could be decimated by gold-plated mirrors that focus sunlight. Unless, that is, the scraps are shiny, in which case they would be added to the reflective array.

4. Nets A system called Grasp (grapple, retrieve, and secure payload) would use a large, tightly meshed net strung between long, inflatable booms to ensnare objects. According to aerospace firm TUI, which is testing the system, a fleet of GRASP-equipped micro-satellites could fly into new debris clouds and trap the rubble before it wreaks additional havoc.

5. Foam
The fastest-growing category of debris is the small stuff — paint flecks, titanium bits, and other artifacts from collisions or explosions of large objects (such as rocket stages). NASA says a massive panel of highly porous foam (think Nerf football) could be placed in the path of a debris field. Junk passing through would quickly decelerate and fall to Earth.

6. Tethers
Tethers of copper and other highly conductive materials could be installed on outgoing satellites or attached to older ones by delivery vehicles. Once unfurled, TUI's theory goes, they would react with Earth's electromagnetic field and become a sort of super conductive drag anchor, slowing an object until gravity pulled it into the inferno of reentry.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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