Too many satellites in orbit, warning: “Soon one in 15 lights in the sky will be artificial”

The many satellites that are launched into low orbit for the Internet and other functions are already obscuring part of the sky and soon, according to the calculations of Samantha Lawler, assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Regina in Dakota, one in 15 lights in the sky it will not be a star or another celestial body, but a satellite, in fact.

In a recent article Lawler has turned his attention to the new constellations dedicated to internet communications for remote areas of the planet, including Starlink.

Amazon will challenge Starlink and OneWeb with its constellation of satellites: Project Kuiper arrives

Go to the deepening

If on the one hand these constellations will solve the problem of connecting to the Internet in areas otherwise not reached by the service, on the other hand they will have a cost from the point of view of the light pollution of the sky.

What scenario is foreseen for the night sky?

The study done by Samantha Lawler to find out how much the night sky will be influenced by sunlight reflected from satellite megaconstellations, also involves the use of an open source simulation model. This model can predict the brightness of satellites observed from different places on Earth, at different times of the night, in different seasons. The simulation is also available online.

The model simulates the presence of 65,000 satellites in orbit, that is the total expected in the next few years of the four main companies dealing with orbital deployment.

In particular they are SpaceX with Starlink (United States), Amazon with Project Kuiper (United States), OneWeb (United Kingdom) and China SatNet / GW (China).

Of the four competitors at the moment only Starlink and OneWeb already have operational satellites in orbit and foresee a final target of 41,942 and 7,092 satellites respectively.

Amazon with Project Kuiper will begin testing in 2022 with a target of 3,236 satellites.

Amazon will challenge Starlink and OneWeb with its constellation of satellites: Project Kuiper arrives

Go to the deepening

The fourth is China SatNet which provides 12,992 satellites.

The problem of the visibility of satellites that reflect sunlight is obviously known and each company involved brings a specific solution.

Starlink has so far made great strides towards obscuring its satellites, but most are still visible to the naked eye.

The simulations show that in every part of the world and in every season there will be tens to hundreds of satellites visible for at least an hour before sunrise and after sunset.

Amateur astronomers are well aware that it is relatively easy to escape urban light pollution by going to less inhabited areas or to the countryside, but unfortunately the simulations show that you will not be able to escape this new light pollution anywhere on Earth, not even at the North Pole.

The most severely affected locations on Earth will be those at 50 degrees north and south, near cities such as London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Kiev, Vancouver and Calgary. At the summer solstice, from these latitudes, nearly 200 satellites will be visible to the naked eye throughout the night.

Unfortunately, optical telescope observations are about to become much more difficult due to this unregulated satellite development. Astronomers are looking for some mitigation strategies on this, but in addition to requiring time and research, they should be paid for by the same companies that are involved in launching the constellations.

Lawler then underlined how several issues related to these launches are not yet regulated: light pollution, air pollution due to the launch process, re-entry, or collisions between satellites, are not regulated. In the future, the business evolution that operators will have will also weigh on these issues. What would happen with the satellites in orbit in the event of the bankruptcy of one of these companies?

These are still open issues on which users, companies and competent authorities will have to identify the best solutions to protect environmental, scientific and Internet connectivity interests.

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