Elon Musk’s Starlink Is Making Life Harder for Astronomers

Elon Musk’s Starlink Is Making Life Harder for Astronomers

Space is a tricky thing to study. It’s hard to physically go there, what with the cost and the distance and the deadly vacuum of it all, so scientists prefer to stay on terra firma and merely look out into the heavens. But it seems there’s a new problem with that method, and it has a name: Elon Musk’s Starlink.

Starlink’s goal is to fill the sky with satellites, bouncing network connections between them like Independence Day. But scientists have long theorised that such a volume of orbiting objects would interfere with astronomy — getting in the way of photos and radio signals. Now, Australian scientists seem to have proven that Starlink is, in fact, a problem.

The ABC has the full story has the full story, in which scientists detailed just how much Starlink satellites get in the way of astronomical research:

For astrophysicist Robin Cook, increased satellite activity has been a hindrance to his work, appearing like midges in the frame when he takes photos of deep space.

“You can imagine that if you’ve got this big telescope that’s looking at the very furthest parts of the universe, and you have these things flying in your face.”

It’s not just the image of the satellite that causes issues. Radio transmissions from Starlink equipment can interfere with radio observatories too:

Federico Di Vruno, co-director of the International Astronomical Union Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky and one of the authors of the study, says the finding is significant given the growing numbers of satellites orbiting in the sky.

“So, when these constellations start to get larger and larger, and you know, Starlink at the moment has a large number of satellites, but there are plans of having much, much larger constellations from many other countries,” Dr Di Vruno said.

But Dr Di Vruno said although emissions from the Starlink satellites were unintended, the problem is not one covered by current space regulation.

It will likely be a long time before regulators catch up to what’s happening above our heads, so scientists may have their work cut out for them for years to come. Differentiating actual spaceborne signals from those emitted by Starlink satellites is likely to become a chore — one that’s unfortunately becoming entirely necessary to space research.

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