Upon investigation of Soliton based LEO debris detection, most research require that the debris is electrically charged. So I would like to know what is causing the debris to be charged and how much of it, is charged, if not all.

Q: How much of the orbiting small scale (1 mm - 10 cm) LEO (low earth orbit) space debris is electrically charged?

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm... non-expert here, but I think "all of it" would be the answer as this is currently worded because "uncharged" i.e. absolutely exactly the same number of electrons as protons" is a difficult thing to achieve anywhere. Even on a quiet day LEO has got plenty of free charges and there's UV light from the Sun. Artificial satellites usually need systems to dissipate their own charging. I would recommend you change to "How electrically charged are the small LEO debris?" Ask for a magnitude, not a boolean. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 18, 2023 at 22:31

1 Answer 1


As uhoh mentioned, the answer to the question as asked is "all of it".

However, to answer the "how"/"why" of the question as asked, ionizing radiation causes ionization, which is to say that ionizing radiation causes atoms to become positively or negatively electrically charged, depending on if it loses or gains electrons, respectively.

Ionizing radiation comes from many sources, notable among which is the Sun, which produces ionizing radiation both from the nuclear reactions that power it and through its high-energy UV, X-, and gamma rays.

Objects in orbit, including debris, are exposed to these ionizing radiation sources with regularity, and so become charged through exposure.

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    $\begingroup$ Also keep in mind that every free electron knocked out of an object in an ionization event is then itself part of the object distribution, and able to rejoin the object, or join a different one, in another collision event, which we call recombination. The overall degree of ionization depends on the detailed balance between processes that increase charge and processes that lower it, which means it changes with time and density and altitude and so on. The magnetic field of the body being orbited has a very large impact. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan C
    Sep 14, 2023 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I certainly learned a bit about this. But would be interested in knowing if there is a way to optically detect these charged "dust". I guess that's another question. $\endgroup$
    – not2qubit
    Sep 14, 2023 at 21:07

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