Elon Musk can leave earthlings without a starry sky

Astronomers warn that their ability to contemplate the Universe could be under threat, writes the BBC.

Илон Маск может оставить землян без звездного неба

Photo: Depositphotos

We are beginning a campaign to launch satellites that will provide high-speed Internet access from space.

But the first batch of these spacecraft, which have already sent into orbit by American company SpaceX, change the image of the night sky.

They appear as bright white streaks, so dazzling that outshine the stars.

Scientists worry that future “mega-constellation” of satellites can spoil images with optical telescopes and interfere with radio astronomy observation.

Dave Clements, an astrophysicist from Imperial College London, told BBC News: “the Night sky belongs to everyone and what is happening now is a total tragedy.”

Companies that launch satellites, said that collaborating with astronomers to minimize the impact of spacecraft.

Why launch a lot of satellites?

The whole thing in high-speed Internet access.

Unlike wires and cables with their limitations, satellites can provide access to the Internet directly from space.

And if the orbit a lot of them, even the most remote regions will be able to get a connection.

Now fly around the Earth only 2200 active satellites.

But the constellation Starlink project of the American company SpaceX, will start to send into orbit 60 satellites every few weeks. This means that before the end of the year will run about 1500 satellites, and by mid 2020-ies there can be for 12,000.

The British company OneWeb aims to nearly 650 satellites — but this figure could rise to 2000, if sufficient demand.

At the same time, Amazon is planning to create a constellation of 3200 spacecraft.

What excites astronomers?

In may and November Starlink sent 120 satellites into orbit at a height of less than 500 km.

But observers of the stars began to worry when their images appeared the spacecraft in the form of bright white flashes.

Dhara Patel, an astronomer with the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said: “These satellites are the size of a table, but their panels reflect a lot of sunlight. This means that we can see them on the images obtained by telescopes.

“These satellites are also actively using radio waves … and this means that they can affect signals which are used by astronomers. Therefore, this also affects radio astronomy,” adds the scientist.

She warns that with the increasing number of satellites in orbit, this problem will grow.

How can this affect research?

Clements believes that satellites can have a significant impact on surveillance.

“They’re in the foreground of the picture of the Universe that we see from Earth. Therefore, they interfere. And you will see everything outside of them — potentially hazardous asteroid near or distant quasar in the Universe,” he says.

Илон Маск может оставить землян без звездного неба

Photo: Depositphotos

The researcher notes that this will particularly affect the operation of telescopes, which make large-scale observations of the sky — for example, future Large SYNOPTIC observation telescope (LSST) in Chile.

He explains: “using LSST and other telescopes, we want to recreate all the changes of the sky in real time … Now the satellites interfere with observations — if someone goes and periodically includes a flash”.

At the same time, Professor Martin Barstow, an astrophysicist from the University of Leicester, said that some problems can be solved.

“The number of satellites seems intimidating, but in fact the large space — if they are all placed in the sky, their density is not too large,” he says.

“And because of the location of satellites are known, their impact can be mitigated. The satellite will point at the picture, it may look like a short flash of light, but you will know about it and can remove it from the image” — adds the scientist.

“To this end, the observatories will have to make an effort, but it can be done,” he concludes.

However, for radio astronomy such constellations can create more problems — especially for relatively new telescopes such as Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Radio signals that use the satellites will differ from those who are looking for the astronomers, but according to Barstow, they can still interfere.

What say the company?

SpaceX told the BBC that they collaborated with international astronomers to minimize the impact of Starlink satellites.

At the next startup they are experiencing a special coating designed to make the spacecraft less bright.

In OneWeb say that I want to be a “leader of opinion in a responsible attitude to the cosmos” and withdraw their satellites in the altitude of 1200 km, so they do not interfere with astronomical observations.

Vice presidentcy OneWeb Ruth Pritchard-Kelly said: “We chose the orbit in the framework of our responsible use of outer space … And we also spoke with representatives of the astronomical community before launching to ensure that our satellites will not be too hard to reflect light and create interference for radio astronomy “.

She added that this is not a situation in which you must make a choice between communication and astronomy.

“There is no doubt that the whole world has the right to connect to the Internet … so it will happen,” she says.

“The issue in cooperation with other stakeholders, to ensure that they don’t interfere with already existing satellite technologies or mobile phones on the Earth, or the astronomical community. We know what to look for a solution together with everyone,” she concludes.

And while observers remain stars to look up to the sky to see will be able to reach a compromise.