An Astronomer Warns: Starlink Satellites will Affect the Search for Near-Earth Asteroids

Of course, the internet is a good thing as long as you’re using it to develop yourself and to learn useful stuff. Everybody has the right to inform themselves and increase their knowledge, and that’s exactly the purpose behind the Starlink satellites. SpaceX plans to lift 12,000 of such gadgets into low Earth orbit in the next several years.

There are already 60 Starlink satellites floating above Earth, but astronomers are concerned about a possible negative impact. Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is one of those astronomers. He claims that potential threats from outer space could be missed by astronomers if the sky will be too crowded with satellites. He declared:

Astronomers – and casual viewers of the night sky – must expect a future in which the low Earth orbit population includes tens of thousands of relatively large satellites,

While most people are happy that the internet will become available to more remote regions of the planet, there are plenty of astronomers including Jonathan McDowell that are concerned about a ‘mega-constellation’ of satellites blocking the view of those who have to detect dangerous objects coming from deep space. However, there are also optimistic people, like Prof Martin Barstow, who said:

The numbers of satellites do sound frightening, but actually space is big – so when you superimpose them all on the sky, the density of these things is not going to be very large,

And because the satellites have known positions, you can mitigate. A satellite is going to be a dot in an image and it might appear as a transient burst of light – but you will know about it and can remove it from the image.

Only time will tell for sure which one of the two sides is right. Until then, we might as well enjoy the wonderful benefits of the internet.

McDowell’s paper has been accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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