A video showing the extent to which space debris has accumulated around Earth over the last 60 years has been created, from the first piece of junk left over from a 1957 collision, to the 20,000 pieces that now orbit the planet.

Stuart Grey, a lecturer University College London and part of the Space Geodesy and Navigation Laboratory, created the video for The Royal Institution using data on the precise location of every piece of space debris. The 60 second video can be viewed above, or the full visualisation telling the full history of space junk can be viewed here.

Space debris is concerning for a wide variety of reasons. While there are over 100 million pieces of debris measuring less than 1cm, there are around 21,000 bigger than 10cm. This may seem small, but the speed at which they are travelling means they have the potential to cause a massive amount of damage to whatever they come into contact with – an example of which is seen in the 2013 film Gravity.

In 2011 a report by the US National Research Council found we are getting very close to the tipping point for how much space debris orbits our planet. The idea of this tipping point was first proposed in the 1970s by Nasa scientist Donald Kessler.

The Kessler effect, or Kessler Syndrome, says there will come a time where the density of space debris will be high enough to cause collisions resulting in even more space debris. This cascading effect will mean that eventually it will be virtually impossible to send satellites into space because they would be destroyed almost immediately by said space junk and thus creating more in the process.

Scientists across the globe are currently working to come up with solutions to capture or destroy space junk. Suggestions include a giant magnetic fishing net, a Pac-Man-style machine that can gobble it up and space lasers that can blast them away.