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Non-magnetic objects induced to move by electromagnets
A set of electromagnets has been used to move metal objects without touching them, even though the objects are not magnetic. This method could potentially be used like a ‘tractor beam’ to move hazardous objects in space.
Imagine trying to catch a fragment of a rocket nozzle in orbit above Earth’s atmosphere. The fragment is travelling faster than a bullet, and tumbling rapidly end over end. Around 27,000 orbiting pieces of such debris are large enough to be tracked by the US Space Surveillance Network, and they constantly threaten active spacecraft and satellites. If the debris were magnetic, then magnets could be used to safely grab hold of the objects and dispose of them — but orbital debris tends to contain little or no magnetic material. In a paper in Nature, Pham et al.1 report a method that allows magnets to grab non-magnetic objects from a distance, which could potentially be used by clean-up satellites for debris capture and disposal.