Twinkling stars or cluttered satellites?
Priya Wadhwa
Space Exploration

Twinkling stars or cluttered satellites?

Hundreds live and dead satellites are hovering around our Earth.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezoz’s Blue Origins plan on sending thousands of satellites into the night sky, enabling a multitude of functions such as surveillance, internet and more.

The Earth already has hundreds of satellites currently circling our planet — many of which are past their life cycles and are essentially just space junk floating around.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) that represents over 13,000 astronomers across the globe, has voiced its concerns about the potential risks of these satellites in space. However, due to lack of hard evidence, it is challenging to hold satellite manufacturers or launchers accountable.

They say that the quiet night sky allows them to study constellations as well as meteorites that are moving towards our planet, and is overall essential for the understanding of the universe. Their two major sources of study — optical and radio astronomy — are particularly the ones under threat.

The surfaces of these satellites are often made of highly reflective metal, and reflections from the Sun in the hours after sunset and before sunrise make them appear as slow-moving dots in the night sky.
International Astronomical Union (IAU) said in a statement

In optical astronomy, even as the technology of lenses, tech and telescopes used to view skies from the Earth has improved, their vision is hindered by the presence of satellites as they reflect the rays of the sun through their shiny surfaces, and cause disturbances in the views.

Moreover, as the satellites communicate with people on Earth through radio signals, it is further jamming the channels, while astronomers are still struggling to deal with ignoring human chatter over the frequencies.

"Satellite constellations can pose a significant or debilitating threat to important existing and future astronomical infrastructures, and we urge their designers and deployers as well as policy-makers to work with the astronomical community in a concerted effort to analyse and understand the impact of satellite constellations," wrote the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

The race to deploy satellites around the Earth is not just a technological move, but a business and even a political one. The lack of clear regulation regarding space space is seeing more tech giants propelling their satellites into orbit before they get introduced; nevertheless, this could also pose some devastating consequences to countries.

While space clutter and thousands of satellites will massively hinder astronomical studies from Earth, these satellites around our planet are also responsible for faster internet capabilities and thereby artificial intelligence that could, one day, allow astronomers to study the sky through the satellites themselves.