"Wave goodbye to it."

Lab Leak

During a spacewalk this week, Russian cosmonauts decided to chuck an entire science experiment as well as other bits of equipment into the abyss while cleaning the outside of an orbiting laboratory docked to the International Space Station.

As Space.com reports, cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin jettisoned the hardware for a seismological experiment deployed all the way back in 2013, destined to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

"Wave goodbye to it," an official from Moscow's mission control said during a livestream on NASA TV. "Rest in peace."

The Seismoprognoz, an experiment designed to measure seismic activity back on Earth, was installed outside the space station's Zvezda module in late December 2013.

Along with some communications equipment, the hardware was unceremoniously tossed away from the module in a direction opposite the station so that it wouldn't accidentally hit it on its way to becoming space char.

It's only the latest instance of astronauts using our planet's orbit and atmosphere as a garbage incinerator.

Routine Maintenance

As we've pointed out before, this kind of space littering is common practice because the debris usually ends up burning up when it makes contact with our atmosphere, leaving no trace behind. Nevertheless, experts have been warning for years that astronauts accidentally losing equipment during spacewalks could make the growing space junk problem even worse.

Known as the "Kessler Syndrome," one theoretical space junk scenario envisions a near future in which debris surrounding Earth reaches a point where trash collides with even more trash to the point at which a ring of trash surrounds our planet, putting satellites and astronauts at risk.

And in many ways, we're well on our way toward such an eventuality. The US government is tracking over 23,000 pieces of trash "larger than a softball" in Earth's orbit. What's worse: the Department of Defense believes there are 100 million pieces of millimeter-sized debris surrounding our planet — all of which can and do harm satellites and the ISS, which has had to dodge debris on numerous occasions.

It's important to note that we don't know yet if or how much astronauts intentionally jettisoning equipment is adding to this problem — but it certainly won't help.

More on space junk: Scientists Experimenting With Actual Tractor Beam to Clean Up Space Junk

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