This article was first published Conversation. (Opens in a new tab) Post an article at Space.com’s . contributed The Voice of the Experts: Op-Ed & Insights.
Michael JI Brown (Opens in a new tab)Associate Professor in Astronomy, Monash University
The night sky is a common desert. In the dark night, from the city lights, you can see the stars as your fathers did centuries ago. You can see the milky way and the constellations associated with the legends of hunters, sisters and journeys.
But as there is no solitude, the night can be polluted. Since Sputnik 1 in 1957, thousands of satellites and pieces of space junk have been launched into orbit.
For now the satellites crossing the night sky are a great curiosity. But the advent of satellites — containing hundreds or thousands of satellites — could change this.
Related: 10 tweets about SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites
The recent launch of BlueWalker 3 (Opens in a new tab)the example of the satellites, the bright perspective of the harmful satellites contaminating the skies. At 64 square meters, it is the largest commercial communications satellite (Opens in a new tab) submissive to the Earth’s orbit – and brilliant.
Pollution of the night
While satellites in the night sky have been a curiosity, the accelerating number of satellites in orbit means night air pollution could become a serious problem.
On a clear night, especially near dusk, you can see satellites moving across the night sky. These satellites are in low Earth orbit, just a few hundred kilometers above the Earth and they go about 8 kilometers per second.
Apps (Opens in a new tab) and websites (Opens in a new tab) allow you to know or predict the arrival of particular satellites overhead. It’s really fun to see the International Space Station traveling, noticing that there’s a group of astronauts in that light.
But in the last few years the pace of the satellite launch has accelerated. SpaceX is launching a cheaper satellite and launching thousands of Starlink satellites that provide internet services.
About 50 Starlink satellites have been launched into orbit by both Falcon 9 rockets, and will initially produce a clear fleet of satellites. This initially reports that the UFO was produced (Opens in a new tab)but they are no longer common enough to be of great fame.
Once the Starlink satellites disperse and move to complete their orbits, they are close to the limit of what can be seen with the naked eye.
But such satellites are bright enough to produce trails in images taken with telescopes. These tracks record the stars and galaxies below them, which can only be measured by taking additional images. Short transient phenomena, such as a short flash from a gamma-ray burst (Opens in a new tab)potential could be lost.
Blue Walker 3
While Starlink is the largest constellation of satellites in service, with thousands of satellites in orbit, others are planned.
Amazon Blue Origin plans more than 3,200 Project Kuiper (Opens in a new tab) satellites, AST SpaceMobile (Opens in a new tab) plans to launch C BlueBird (Opens in a new tab) satellites (and perhaps more).
The recently launched BlueBird prototype, BlueWalker 3, has generated genuine alarm among astronomers.
While the BlueWalker 3 initially failed miserably, it deployed a 64-square-meter communications array — roughly the size of a pumpkin patch. This immense surface is very good at reflecting sunlight, and the BlueWalker 3 is now as bright as some of the brightest stars in the night sky.
It is possible for the operational BlueBird satellites to be even greater (Opens in a new tab) and brighter.
For many satellites, this could be a very bad thing – very bad. If there were thousands of these bright satellites, you could not sometimes look at the night sky without seeing bright satellites.
We would lose that sense of the wilderness, with the almost perpetual memory of technology in our sky.
It could be a big effect on professional astronomy. Brighter satellites do more damage to astronomical images than fainter satellites.
Additionally, many of these satellites transmit radio waves at radio frequencies that could interfere with radio astronomy. (Opens in a new tab) above remote locations where radio observatories observe the sky (Opens in a new tab).
What happens next is uncertain. The International Astronomical Union has shared its alarm about satellite constellations and in particular BlueWalker 3.
However, the approval of satellite satellites by the US Federal Communications Commission (Opens in a new tab) had relatively little consideration of environmental impacts.
This has recently been flagged as a major issue by the US Government Accountability Office (Opens in a new tab)but whether this change is concrete is uncertain.
we are on the edge of a precipice. Will the night internet or 5G with artificial satellites glorify the sky? Or will we withdraw and preserve the night sky in the common desert?
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