As satellite fleets multiply, the RAS warns of increased light emissions

As satellite fleets multiply, the RAS warns of increased light emissions

According to recent studies, increasingly rising numbers of satellites, known as “mega-constellations,” committed to space-centered┬áinternet and other commercial facilities, create more total light emissions or skyglow than commonly believed. According to a study published in the Royal Astronomical Society’s Monthly Notices: Letters, the night sky’s average visibility may increase by over 10% over most of the earth.

The study’s lead author, Miroslav Kocifaj of the Slovak Academy of Sciences as well as Comenius University in Slovakia, stated, “Our main motivation was to quantify the possible impact to night sky illumination from external influences, such as space objects in Earth’s orbit.” “We predicted the sky brightness improvement to be minor if any at all, but our preliminary theoretical calculations have been highly unexpected, prompting us to publish our findings as soon as possible.”

The researchers looked at the cumulative impact of a growing number of satellites, as well as expended rocket stages as well as space debris, on the general visibility of the night sky, rather than the effects of specific satellites and the “sight traces” they would create in long-exposure images. The researchers devised a model focused on the scale and brightness distributions of observed objects in Earth orbit.

“Unlike ground-based light emissions, this form of artificial light during the night sky can be observed through a significant portion of the Earth’s surface,” stated John Barentine, the International Dark-Sky Association’s director in charge of the public policy as well as a study co-author. “Astronomers create observatories far away from city lights to search for dark skies, but this kind of light emission has a far broader regional reach.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States reviews license requests for over 81,000 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink program, OneWeb, and an Amazon-planned constellation of the internet relay satellites. As of April 1, SpaceX had launched 1,385 Starlinks, while OneWeb had deployed 146. Although SpaceX, as well as other satellite makers, are making good faith attempts to reduce the light of their satellites, the glow of the night sky would continue to rise, according to the writers of the new report.

The researchers write that “the cloud of the artificial objects circling the Earth, consisting of both active and decommissioned spacecraft, sections of launch vehicles, fragments, and tiny particles, with distinctive sizes varying from micrometers to about tens of meters, absorb and disperse sunlight toward ground-based observers.”

“Many of these objects behave as independent lines in science photographs when imaged with large angular resolution as well as high sensitivity detectors. As seen with comparatively low-sensitivity instruments, such as the naked eye or even the low-angular-resolution photometers, their collective impact is that of the diffuse night sky brightness element, similar to the Milky Way’s ambiguous integrated starlight background.”

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