Satellite clusters can create problems for radio astronomers

  • Astronomers have detected unintentional radiation being emitted from satellites beaming internet to Earth.
  • There are fears that should more satellites arrive in orbit, this radiation could hamper radio astronomy efforts.
  • SpaceX has said it will work with astronomers to mitigate the impact of these emissions.

Since humans began surveying the stars with powerful telescopes in huge observatories, astronomers have had to contend with rogue radio signals and interference. For this reason, many observatories are built far from densely populated areas or even radio quiet zones.

However, since the likes of SpaceX have started launching clusters of satellites into orbit to beam internet from space to Earth, there have been fears that these orbital bodies could interfere with astronomy. There have already been complaints regarding satellites blocking the view of space from Earth and now there is another problem developing.

In the study Unintended electromagnetic radiation from Starlink satellites detected with LOFAR between 110 and 188 MHz published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, this growing problem was explained.

The study observed radiation being emitted from 47 of 68 Starlink satellites it observed using a Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope. The authors concluded that this unintended electromagnetic radiation is emanating from electronics onboard the satellites.

“With LOFAR, we detected radiation between 110 and 188 MHz from 47 out of the 68 satellites that were observed. This frequency range includes a protected band between 150.05 and 153 MHz specifically allocated to radio astronomy by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU),” co-author of the study Cees Bassa said in a press release.

The authors are clear to state that SpaceX isn’t breaking any rules here as the radiation being emitted isn’t covered by an sort of international regulations. The trouble here however, is that as more satellites are pushed to orbit the effects of this radiation could be detrimental to astronomers

“Our simulations show that the larger the constellation, the more important this effect becomes as the radiation from all the satellites adds up. This makes us worried not only about the existing constellations but even more about the planned ones — and also about the absence of clear regulation that protects the radio astronomy bands from unintended radiation,” co-author of the study, Benjamin Winkel writes.

The authors of the study said they are “in close contact with SpaceX, and the company has offered to continue to discuss possible ways to mitigate any adverse effects on astronomy in good faith”.

Of course SpaceX isn’t the only company launching satellites into space and hopefully those firms are as eager to help as SpaceX is.


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