View from space

Our right to the night sky

January 8, 2020

SpaceX has permission to launch 12,000 Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing internet access to communities with poor or non-existent connectivity. But according to Daniela Calzettiastronomy, there are many drawbacks. There will be more light pollution and the night sky won’t be visible to the naked eye – or to astronomers’ telescopes. The dichotomy raises the question which is more important, having internet or seeing the sky? 

 

From “The end of the night sky? Local astronomers see SpaceX as threat” 

Internet from outer space. It sounds like a futuristic concept, but according to some astronomers, a planned network of thousands of satellites providing broadband service may actually threaten the future of astronomy. 

SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, adding on to 60 satellites that were released in May.  

The satellites “will provide fast, reliable internet to populations with little or no connectivity,” according to a SpaceX press release, “including those in rural communities and places where existing services are too expensive or unreliable.” 

But the futuristic venture has the potential to hide the night sky from both the naked eye and telescopes, according to some astronomers. Daniela Calzettiastronomy, said that Starlink can be “in some cases pretty devastating” to astronomy. Astronomers sometimes need to throw out observations due to satellite patterns on their images, she said, and with an increasing number of satellites in the sky, this issue will only grow. 

A spokeswoman for SpaceX said that the company is “actively working with leading astronomy groups from around the world to make sure their work isn’t affected.”  

As of now, no international law specifically limits parameters such as how many satellites a company can place into orbit. Calzetti said that she sees the positive impact of the satellites providing more people with an internet connection, but greater regulation of these satellites is needed to ensure “the right of people to have safe and reliable communications, and the right of other communities to be able to see the night sky.” 

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