Astronomers are not happy with the growing number of satellites orbiting our planet. More than three years ago, hundreds of these specialists stated after a meeting that the Starlink constellation devices would reduce discoveries. This led Elon Musk’s company to reduce the reflection of its satellites to try to appease the complaints of the scientific community.
But the concerns have gone much further. A little over a year ago, a company called AST SpaceMobile launched Bluewalker 3 into orbit, a massive 1,500-kilogram, 64-meter deployed satellite that would lay the foundation for a new communications platform. Astronomers predicted at the time that it could become an object easily visible because of its brightness.
A “prediction” that has been fulfilled
With Bluewalker 3 operational in orbit, researchers have collected enough information to calculate its impact on astronomical observations. The study, published in the journal Nature, yields a discouraging conclusion: the satellite is one of the brightest objects in the night sky. Specifically, it is almost as bright as the eighth most visible star from Earth.
The document goes even further. Bluewalker 3 is second only to the Moon, Jupiter, Venus and seven other stars in terms of brightness in the night sky. This makes the device a new obstacle to astronomical observations. But the thing doesn’t end there. AST SpaceMobile wants almost a hundred of these devices in orbit, some of which could be twice as big as the current one.
Bluewalker Trail 3
Jeremy Tregloan-Reed, one of the authors of the study, warns that if the presence of satellites becomes a problem, it will completely change the night sky. The consequences indicated by the specialist are broad. Satellite trails (as we can see in the image above) can ruin telescope observations and make observing nebulae more difficult.
It should be noted that, at least at this time, there are 18 satellite constellations being developed. Among the best known are those of Starlink, Amazon Kuiper and OneWeb. Furthermore, experts such as astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Jonathan McDowell, estimate that within this decade we could have up to 100,000 satellites in orbit.
Meredith Rawls, a member of the IAU Center for Dark Sky Protection, has suggested in statements to Space.com that the problem should be addressed comprehensively. On the one hand, satellite manufacturers trying to mitigate their reflection and, on the other, astronomers looking for ways to improve their observation methods to deal with the noise of their observations.
Images: AST SpaceMobile
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