Night skies polluted by ‘photobomber’ satellites

Astronomical photobombing is increasingly a problem: the large amount of satellites in orbit, especially those of the large constellations, such as those of Starlink and OneWeb for global internet connections, makes it increasingly difficult to observe the sky without the disturbances from the traces of the many objects in orbit. A problem destined to worsen and for this the International Astronomical Union (Iau) asks stricter rules and prepares to put one online map which allows astronomers to know in real time the movements of satellites in orbit to help astronomers to aim telescopes in areas free from disturbances.

“For some years, especially the last two, there has been a real problem due to the large number of satellites in orbit they make difficult observations astronomical “, said Piero Benvenuti, director of the Iau Center for the protection of the sky from the interference of the Iau satellites.” A phenomenon destined to worsen, as the number of satellites already programmed is very high “.

While photobombing during a selfie can be fun, finding astronomical images ruined by the passage of a series of intrusive satellites often forces you to throw away results that are the result of long hours of work. The most affected are observers who study the sky in its entirety, such as the Zwicky Transient Facility telescope that we have seen. ruin over 20% of observationsi made at dusk by the trails of the passage of satellites.

I am at least over 5,000 satellites currently operating in low earth orbit and many have been launched in recent months for the construction of large constellations such as Starlink (with over 2,600 in orbit out of the 4,400 expected, but which could reach 40,000) or OneWeb (with 400 and at least 800 soon). A problem that has emerged in recent years to which a solution must be found: “a reasonable compromise must be found – said Benvenuti – between the technological and economic development needs of these new operators, and those to come, and the needs of the astronomical community”.

On the one hand to mitigate, for example by raising awareness and imposing international standards on the brightness and number of satellites, on the other hand we will have to try to adapt, for example with the new instrument that plans to launch the IAU shortly to make it possible for astronomers from all over the world know the position of satellites much more accurately than before, organizing observations accordingly, without having to interrupt them due to space intruders.


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