Confirmed, Elon Musk has done anything: astronomers are sounding the alarm

News Confirmed, Elon Musk has done anything: astronomers are sounding the alarm

Published on 08/03/2023 at 07:35

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A glut of satellites in low-Earth orbit is starting to hamper space observation, according to a recent study highlighting the challenges faced by the Hubble Space Telescope.

If we cannot deny the benefits offered to people by satellite networks such as Starlink or OneWeb, to name but a few, it is impossible to ignore the implications of their deployment. This observation is not new: it has already been made by professional and amateur astronomers who find it increasingly difficult to observe the sky due to the increasing frequency of satellites in low Earth orbit.

A recent study published today in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy indicates that the famous Hubble Space Telescope is also a victim of this situation, which is only in its infancy.

“The Hubble Space Telescope is in danger”

OUR The newspaper “New York Times was one of the first media outlets to publish this study, and his summary of the situation was simple: “The Hubble Space Telescope is in danger.” Application confirmed Article on astronomy of naturetitled “The Effect of Satellite Tracks on Hubble Space Telescope Observations”. We are finding that more and more images taken by the NASA telescope are becoming unusable because they are encrypted by the frequent passage of the Starlink satellites and others.

“The recent launch of constellations of satellites into low Earth orbit poses a growing threat to astronomical observations with ground-based telescopes, which has alarmed the astronomical community. Observations affected by artificial satellites could become unsuitable for scientific research, leading to an increasing portion of the research budget being wasted on costly infrastructure and mitigation efforts,” the paper concludes. In fact, to make usable photographs, Hubble makes a typical exposure that lasts 11 minutes. When nothing interferes with the shot, the shot can be used. But this has not been the case for several years.

To less and less usable photographs of space

Between 2009 and 2020, the probability of seeing a satellite in a photograph taken by Hubble was 3.7%. In 2021, this percentage was 5.9%, which is already a very clear increase. Worryingly, the Nature Astronomy study is stopping this year: we expect future data from 2022 to yield an even higher percentage. And it will be much worse in the coming years, when hundreds of thousands of satellites are about to be launched, again in low Earth orbit.

Between Starlink at SpaceX, Kuiper at Amazon, Europe’s Iris2 project, or even China’s GW project, the number of satellites deployed in this orbit in the coming years looks colossal. More than 420,000 satellites could be launched in the coming years, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “We will live with this problem. And astronomy will be affected. There will be science that cannot be done and things that we will miss,” he said.

Remember that these constellations of satellites also often create problems for detecting asteroids that can threaten the Earth. It is hard to imagine that the scientific community will not address these various issues in the coming years.

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