Satellites’ massive constellations rapidly launched into Earth’s orbit are gradually becoming data contamination to astronomers’ observations. Reflected Sun radiations make satellites appear as very bright streaks that interject astronomical observations, significantly affecting the study of principles of Physics, cosmology, other planets in the galaxy, and asteroids threatening Earth.
A report by the American Astronomical Society and NOIRLab indicated that severe interruptions affect most phenomena. Astronomers continue to draft measures that help cushion the effect, such as by conducting observations at times when satellites are not quickly passing by and urging satellite manufacturers and operators to produce less-reflective satellites. However, the report identified high-flying satellites as particularly problematic because they absorb much of the Sun’s radiation.
Eminent damage to Earth’s telescopic observation as companies and agencies within the space industry launch thousands of broadband satellites to boost the planet’s high-speed internet access. Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched approximately 650 of the scheduled 12,000 satellites for the company’s Starlink project. OneWeb, a London-based satellite operator, inaugurated 74 of its gigantic satellite constellation of 48,000. Recently, Amazon received US-government endorsement for the company’s Kuiper project scheduled to install 3,236 satellites.
Astronomer, satellite manufacturers, and operators continue to hold discussions to roll out mitigation plans for the satellites’ brightness problem. Scientists identified the issue back in June after the launch of SpaceX’s first bunch of Starlink satellites. Astronomers continue to assess the extent of the problem and how they plan to mitigate the issues. Astronomers, dark-sky enthusiasts, and satellite operators convened a workshop to examine the situation’s severity further.
Connie Walker, NOIRLab’s astronomer, reported that terminating satellite launch programs is the ultimate solution to preventing interruption of observations made by ground-based visible-light or infrared telescopes. However, most satellite projects received approval, and others continue to launch several satellites into Earth’s orbit, making Walker’s suggestion impossible to execute.
Research shows that bright streaks pose a significant interference to wide-field sky explorations, notably those Vera C. Rubin Observatory anticipates performing using its 8.4-meter telescope set up by NSF on mount Chilean. Upon commissioning in early 2022, the facility plans to capture wide-field images covering the whole visible sky for at least a decade to demonstrate the universe’s changes over time.
The research findings stated that bright streaks significantly worsen ground-based observations during sunset and sunrise, as the satellites capture the Sun’s gleam before reaching the Earth’s shadow. These interferences affect the research done during these hours, such as findings of near-Earth asteroids. In summary, as space companies and agencies schedule more satellite launches, building upon the mega satellite constellation, the effect on astronomical observations is already being felt.