Saturday, May 18, 2024

Thousands of satellites to add light and clutter to the night sky

The night sky is going to get much busier thanks to thousands of new internet satellites set to launch over the next few years – and researchers say it’s going to affect Canada more than most regions, reports Researchers from the University of Toronto, the University of Regina, and the University of British Columbia found that most light pollution is expected to happen near 50 degrees latitude north and south due to the orbits of the new satellites. This means the skies near most large Canadian cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg could be affected. “As with any new technology, it’s important to look at all of the possible impacts,” said Hanno Rein, an associate professor at U of T Scarborough and a co-author of the research. “This is such a fundamental change to our view of the sky that it requires greater scrutiny.” Several internet-service companies are planning to launch tens of thousands of satellites in the near future. It’s estimated the number of orbiting satellites could reach 65,000 over the next few years, compared to about 5,000 today. This flood of satellites presents a major challenge for astronomers and amateur stargazers who have to contend with light pollution from the thousands of new points of light. The researchers say these satellites will also contribute to atmospheric pollution from rocket fuel during launch and on re-entry when they burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. More satellites also increase the threat of low orbit collisions, contributing to what’s known as the Kessler Syndrome. This is where the number of objects in low orbit is high enough that a collision becomes more likely, leading to a cascading effect where space debris increases the probability of further collisions. There is currently no method of cleaning up space debris, which means certain space activities and the use of other satellites could be prevented for long periods of time. While this technology has been touted by companies as a way to deliver high-speed internet to rural areas, Rein notes that the service is expensive and that only a relatively small group of people living in wealthy countries will enjoy the benefits. “The light and environmental pollution impact, on the other hand, will be experienced by everyone,” he said.

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