Light pollution in satellites harms the work of astronomers


A study revealed that there is no place on Earth where astronomers can observe the stars without the luminous interference from satellites and space debris. Currently, tens of thousands of objects are in orbit around the planet.

“It is a little surprising. As the space becomes more crowded, the magnitude of this effect will be just more, not less ”, says John Barentine, director of public policies for the International Dark-Sky Association and one of the study’s collaborators.

Astronomers are concerned about the “megaconstellations” of satellites in Earth’s orbit. Since 2019, SpaceX has launched more than 1,000 satellites of the global internet service Starlink and there are plans to launch thousands more that will expand the network in the coming years.

Thus, the shiny satellite trails can hinder the most sensitive astronomical observations and the naked eye. In response, the aerospace company has already announced that it will decrease a quarter of the brightness of objects in the next prototypes.

Will satellite brightness hide areas of the Cosmos?

Astronomers also fear that the cloud of satellites over the Earth could spread light back into the atmosphere. This could add a background glow to the night sky, making it difficult to observe more imperceptible places in the Cosmos.

Even in the darkest places on the planet, the sky itself has a natural glow in the atmosphere due to ionized particles. In addition, it is estimated that objects in orbit can add about 10% more diffused light.

The calculation made in the mid-1990s is based on various assumptions about the number, distribution and size of space objects. Luckily, he extrapolates the growing crowd and has since guessed how reflective they would be on average.

No space for new observatories

Even so, the agglomeration can hinder the construction of new observatories. In 1979, the International Astronomical Union suggested that the locations should be located in areas where light pollution was less than 10% of the light from the brightness of the natural sky.

In addition, research for clues to the formation of galaxies may become more expensive. Although the human eye detects such small differences in contrast, astronomy instruments do not have this evolution.

So, for faint galaxies to stand out from the brightness of the sky, astronomers already needed long exposures on the largest telescopes in the darkest places. With light pollution, this time dedicated should increase and make images more expensive.


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