An article published in The Astrophysics Journal Letters has revealed that SpaceX’s large collection of low-orbiting satellites have appeared in around a fifth of twilight images of an astronomical facility. Mind you, the research indicates that appearances have very little effect on what astronomers can actually observe. But they are affecting.
A total of 2,042 Starlink satellites have been launched so far since the first two were released in the sky in February 2018, although many have failed or been written off in space.
Starlink Internet’s goal is to provide Internet access to most of the Earth, particularly the most underserved rural areas. However, the next generation Starlink constellations could end up with up to 42,000 devices located in low Earth orbit (not only from Elon Musk’s company, but also from other companies), something that generates great concern in the scientific community.
This study aims to shed some light by providing an estimate of its impact on images captured by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), an instrument that operates from Caltech’s Palomar Observatory near San Diego.
The problem is that these satellites reflect sunlight at dawn and dusk, scintillating and creating streaks in the images: nearly one in five images taken at dusk show satellite streaks.
“In 2019, 0.5% of twilight images were affected, and now it’s almost 20%,” said Przemek Mróz of the University of Warsaw in Poland and lead author of the study. “We don’t expect Starlink satellites to affect non-twilight images, but if other companies’ satellite constellation goes into higher orbits, this could cause problems for non-twilight observations ,” Mróz clarifies.
Referencia: Impact of the SpaceX Starlink Satellites on the Zwicky Transient Facility Survey Observations Przemek Mróz, Angel Otarola, Thomas A. Prince, Richard Dekany, Dmitry A. Duev, Matthew J. Graham, Steven L. Groom, Frank J. Masci, and Michael S. Medford
Published 2022 January 14 • © 2022. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society.
The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 924, Number 2 Citation Przemek Mróz et al 2022 ApJL 924 L30