Look! Up in the sky! This is a bird! This is a plane! These are hundreds of satellites that are burying the galaxy.
Numerous massive Internet satellites launched by environmental billionaire Elon Musk are swirling overhead – and astronomers are trying to figure out how to deal with the bright reflection of the sun from these artificial orbits.
“There’s almost no place in the sky where you don’t see a satellite pass,” Rick Feinberg of the American Astronomical Society told The Post.
Already the aisles of these satellite necklaces are stained with images made by world-class telescopes. And skygers are worried about the long-term effects on research ̵
Amazon’s 3,236 satellites are not yet on earth and OneWeb has only about 70 of the 700 orbiting ones at the moment, but SpaceX already has 750 and expects to eventually operate more than 40,000. on request for comment.
“There’s no way to avoid the impact of satellites on terrestrial astronomy,” said astronomer Jeff Hall, director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. “Even if the satellites are invisible to the naked eye, they are dazzlingly bright for modern research telescopes.”
Of particular concern is what the satellites will do for a decade-long project scheduled to begin in 2022 by the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. The 27-foot telescope, built by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, will be connected to a giant digital camera that takes pictures of the skies every three days.
“It’s like making a 10-year-old movie in the night sky,” Feinberg said. “It will sweep the sky – it is looking for asteroids, it is looking for supernovae, it is basically mapping the universe.”
The telescope’s camera field will certainly capture satellite tracks in part of each image – and the images will be useless if the stripes are too bright, Feinberg said.
Shortly after SpaceX’s first satellite mission, astronomers went to the company – and found a helping hand, Hall told The Post.
First, engineers obscured parts of the satellites, making the reflection weaker but not as weak as astronomers had hoped. They then installed visors to block sunlight from reaching the satellites and reflecting on the ground, he explained. Now they are experimenting with the orientation of the satellites, which should make them invisible to the naked eye at lower orbits and quite faint at higher ones.
“The higher the satellite, the longer it takes for the sun to set on it,” Feinberg said. “It can literally be seen all night.”
Astronomers are also considering how they can minimize the impact of satellites. For example, says Feinberg, one suggestion is to provide more information about the orbit in real time so that researchers can simply avoid satellites. Another is a computer program that essentially erases traces of photos.
And yet, despite all the headaches, astronomers are moving forward. They have had failures before, such as when NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope failed.
“We’ve been through hell,” Feinberg told The Post, and we’ve always found a way to bounce back. “