Expert Warns SpaceX’s Starlink Poses Greater Threat To Astronomy Than Light Pollution

Experts warn that mega-constellations of low-Earth-orbit satellites, such as SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon Kuiper, pose a greater threat to astronomy than light pollution.

What Is The Reason?

There are currently 2,000 SpaceX Starlink satellites in orbit, with up to 42,000 planned in the coming years. SpaceX is one of a number of companies attempting to fill low Earth orbit with spacecraft in order to provide fast, space-based internet.

These networks of tens to thousands of spacecraft have sparked debate among astronomers, as they leave streaks in space photographs.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has established the Center for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference to tackle the problem and collaborate with the satellite industry on a solution.

How Can These Small Satellites Pose A Threat?

These mega-constellations, according to Piero Benvenuti, IAU General Secretary and director of the new institution, represent the greatest threat to modern astronomy.

He intends to bring together astronomers, operators of mega-constellations, and regulators to develop solutions, which might include software updates at observatories and satellite tweaks to lessen the impact on observations.

Is There Any Other Company Like Starlink?

While SpaceX is the most well-known of the mega-constellation suppliers, it isn’t the only one cramming spacecraft into low Earth orbit, many of which reflect light back to Earth.

The first 60 Starlink satellites were launched in 2019, and there are currently over 2,000 in low Earth orbit, with dozens more being launched each month.

Other companies, such as Amazon Kuiper and OneWeb, want to greatly increase the number of satellites, and China plans to launch a network of 13,000 spacecraft.

What Is The Objective Of These Satellites?

The goal of these networks is to bring satellite internet to rural areas where fiber isn’t feasible, with latency times in the tens of milliseconds rather than the hundreds of milliseconds that standard geosynchronous satellite internet offers.

What Are The Steps Taken By Companies to Prevent Such Dangers?

SpaceX has attempted to address the issue with the DarkSat and VisorSat, which use coatings and shielding to minimize the light of a satellite when viewed from Earth.

Other companies, such as OneWeb, operate in a higher orbit than SpaceX, which places its satellites around 350 miles above the Earth.

What Are The New Facilities?

The new facility will be managed jointly by the UK-based Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO) and the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory of the US National Science Foundation (NOIRLab).

Both of these groups are working on next-generation telescopes whose observations will be hampered by satellite interference.

Where Are These Radio Telescopes Located?

The world’s largest radio telescope array is being built by SKAO in two locations in Australia and South Africa, while NOIRLab’s Vera C. Rubin Observatory is set to launch in Chile.

Why Was SKAO Built?

SKAO was built to detect the weakest radio signals from faraway stars, galaxies, and even exoplanets; however, it will be partially blinded by constellations.

Objective Of Vera C Rubin Telescope

The Vera C Rubin Observatory will conduct a 10-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), which will produce a 500 petabyte series of photographs of the whole night sky.

‘In the past, the main cause of interference was light pollution from urban illumination, or so-called artificial light at night,’ according to Benvenuti.

‘However, due to their omnipresent invasiveness, the influence of massive constellations of communication satellites has recently become a greater worry.’

How Can Astronomers Avoid The Effects Of Urban Illumination?

Astronomers may avoid the effects of urban illumination by locating their telescopes in increasingly remote areas on the planet, such as the deserts of Chile, Australia, and South Africa, but they can’t prevent satellite trains.

‘By the end of the decade, more than 5,000 satellites will be visible above the horizon at any given time,’ according to Connie Walker, a NOIRLab scientist.

The sun will illuminate a few hundred to several thousand of these satellites at a typical dark sky observatory position.

Problems Due To Starlink Satellites

Even the smallest optical and infrared telescopes will be able to detect them, causing issues for astronomers employing the largest and smallest observatories.

Why Telescope For Farthest Objects Will Be Hard To Hit?

The telescopes meant to search for the farthest and faintest stars and galaxies will be the hardest to hit, since reflected light from satellites will brighten the night sky enough to increase the amount of light reaching the telescopes.

Last year, the IAU and the United Nations began conversations about the need to protect the ‘pristine night sky’ from the ever-increasing number of satellites.

‘These trains are beautiful and impressive, but do we really want to see them all over the place?’ On April 20, 2021, Thomas Schildknecht stated.

‘Do we want to see them in the outback of Australia?’ In Antarctica, perhaps? Or perhaps in Chile’s darkest regions? Most likely not.’

Starlink satellites interrupted a fifth of photos, according to a recent research by the Zwicky Transient Facility in San Diego.

Why Is This Facility Made?

This facility is designed to keep an eye out for asteroids, and they estimate that if 10,000 satellites are in low Earth orbit, every image will include at least one streak.

It’s not all awful, though each stripe only accounts for a tenth of one percent of the pixels displayed in a full ZTF image, making it less noticeable than a foggy sky.

Significance Of Starlink

Number Of Satellites In The LEO.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched almost 2,000 of its ‘Starlink’ space internet satellites into orbit, with a goal of 12,000 by 2026.

They constitute a constellation aimed at providing low-cost broadband internet from low Earth orbit.

Satellite internet has been around for some time, but it has been plagued by excessive latency and inconsistent connections.


The Starlink system is unique. The goal of SpaceX, according to the company, is to give high-speed, cable-like internet to everyone on the planet.

Scope Of Satellite Internet

According to Musk, the company may provide a low-cost internet connection to three billion people who do not currently have access. It might potentially be used to help fund a future Mars metropolis.

One of Musk’s long-stated goals, and the reason he founded SpaceX, is to assist humanity in reaching Mars.


As part of Project Kuiper, Musk’s rival Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, aims to launch a constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites to bring broadband access to rural places. Astronomers, on the other hand, are concerned about light pollution and other interference caused by these satellite constellations.

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