The progress of such technologies seems to be inevitably inseparable from the increasing pollution to the natural environment. On earth, industrialization has changed the global climate, with potentially far-reaching and huge consequences, and the advent of modern consumerism has polluted the ocean with plastic waste. As more and more people grasp the orbital domain, the space environment has begun to be damaged by human pollution. For example, the currently proposed giant satellite constellation. In the next few years, we can see that nearly 26,000 satellites will be launched into low-Earth orbit. In comparison, about 5,000 satellites are still in orbit.
A giant satellite constellation is a collection of satellites flying in formation in low Earth orbit. SpaceX is already building its Starlink project, which Elon Musk hopes will one day provide low-cost Internet access worldwide. The company is busy launching the satellites via the Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX is not the only company that wants to use satellite clusters to provide Internet services. OneWeb also hopes to create an orbital network of hundreds of satellites, as does global giant Amazon.
The surge in satellite technology and the advent of giant satellite constellations have not only produced physical pollution in the form of failed satellites, but have also produced debris from orbital collisions in the worst case. It also has the potential to seriously interfere with astronomical observations. These swarms of probes relentlessly cross the line of sight of powerful telescopes that capture detailed observations of cosmic objects, reducing the quality of the data set.
The scientists behind this latest study modeled the effects of giant satellite constellations on ESO telescopes that make visible and infrared observations, such as the very large telescope in the Chilean Atacama Desert. The paper considers a range of factors and different ways the telescope looks at the sky.
The results show that observations that rely on short-term exposure are affected by satellite light bombs only 0.5% of the time, most of the time at twilight. After dusk or just before dawn, astronomers are actively observing the night sky, but there is enough sunlight around the curve of the earth to illuminate a large number of metal detectors passing overhead. At twilight, telescopes that require longer exposure times (about 1000 seconds) will be affected about 3% of the time.
The wide area used to constantly gaze at the night sky in search of fleeting events such as nova, long-exposure observations will be most affected by satellite constellations. For example, depending on the time of year, the National Science Foundation’s Vera Rubin Observatory will be affected by satellites 30% to 50% of the time.
The study also mentioned two main ways in which astronomers can try to mitigate the damage that satellite swarms do to their observations. The first method is to arrange its telescope to capture the sky when there are no satellites in a given area. Satellite paths are predictable, so this is a viable technique. However, it does not apply to every type of observation. For example, when long-field wide-field exposure is required, satellite pollution may not be avoided. The second method involves interrupting the telescope’s guard by accurately determining when a bright satellite is passing through the field of view, and closing the shutter before the moment of contact. This will be a challenging technique and will not work for wide-field observations at all.
On the industrial side, manufacturers can darken the surface of satellites to reduce reflections. SpaceX has tried this approach in one of its Starlink satellites, although the practice must be widely disseminated to be effective. The study also touched on the impact of giant satellite constellations on public night sky vision. Researchers say that in mid-latitudes, 1,600 satellites will appear above the horizon. This may triple the number of satellites visible to the naked eye in the night sky compared to now.
The research aims to provide a simple assessment of the impact of satellite swarms on scientific observations, rather than a comprehensive study of potential damage. To make conservative estimates, researchers must make some educated guesses about important elements such as the distribution and brightness of satellites. The study authors point out that their results “may be wrong on the pessimistic side” and that further research using more sophisticated models will help reveal the nature of future interference and explore its observations of radio, millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelength Impact.
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