Astronomers have claimed that SpaceX‘s Starlink satellite constellation could block the view of the potentially Earth-damaging asteroids that might head towards us. Although the chance of a space rock hitting our planet are extremely minimal, some researchers keep claiming that the constellation might hinder their attempts to locate the objects.
Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite broadband project, which intends to eventually send tens of thousands of satellites to Earth orbit in order to provide Internet to all corners of the world. Although this is an admirable and ambitious idea, a few astronomers started to claim that Starlink will impact their ability to save the world from a possible asteroid collision.
Too Many Satellites Could Impede Research
Dr. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, made some claims as per his personal beliefs that the young Starlink constellation has already influenced the ‘vital’ search for new asteroids.
He said that even though Starlink is not yet an issue for spotting space rocks, it could become a nuisance because of their eventual quantity and their rather low orbiting place. Most sky researchers work in the middle of the night because they are searching for faraway galaxies.
Still, asteroids on a possible trajectory course towards Earth are close in the sky to the Sun, which means that astronomers have to seek them as close to the Sun as possible. This happens immediately after the Sun sets, but this exact period is when most of the Starlink probes are bright.
Even though the Sun is set on our planet, it has not set 300 miles up in the sky, which means that the Starlink satellites are still reflecting the Sun’s light. At any time, there could be numerous satellites brightened as researchers try to observe the twilight sky, a time known as ‘the astronomical twilight,’ which is the first few hours after the Sun sets.
Dr. McDowell said: “So early in the night, there’s going to be lots of these things, making it very difficult to take a picture without one of these things, leaving a bloody great streak across your image. I think that will make this the science difficult.”
“If there are ten streaks on every astronomical image – which I don’t think we’re going to see, but that’s the logical extreme – then you’re completely hosed, as we say in America. It’s unclear just how bad it’s going to be right now, but it’s not an order of magnitude away from the really bad case,” he added.
Starlink is Not at Fault Yet
The researcher continued: “And even if Starlink ends up being not so bad, allowing astronomers to work around it without an extreme amount of effort, the next constellation might be worse. Therefore, I think there needs to be a discussion about the night sky as a shared resource for humanity and who should regulate it and who should decide how it gets changed.”
The Harvard scientist believes that the only solution is for compromises from both parties. According to him, SpaceX could try to reduce the brightness of their satellites, as well as to move them to higher orbits. However, there’s no guarantee that this will help as of yet.
Regulation of how many satellites can be in orbit, as per Dr. McDowell, could change things not just for astronomers, but also for the probes, to ‘stop them all hitting each other.’
“Hopefully, we can find a happy medium because we all want cheap Internet. And we all want a future in which there’s lots of industrial activity in space – I think that’s cool – but it has to be just like industrial activity on Earth. It has to be done with care with sensitivity to the environment, and so I think we can find a liveable compromise in the same way we regulate industries on Earth,” Dr. McDowell stated.