Back in the 70s, kids used to look up at the summer sky and try to be the first one to shout, “Satellite!” That seems like a relic from the past now, alongside Polaroid cameras and astronauts on the Moon. These days, it’s rare to spend any amount of time looking at the sky without seeing a satellite, or several of them.
A new satellite is emphasizing that fact. It’s a prototype communications satellite with a roughly 700-square-foot antenna, and it’s brighter than most stars.
In the astronomy community, we typically this of light pollution as an overall negative. Much research points out its negative effect on our sleep and even our observational equipment. It also significantly impacts wildlife; however, according to a new paper from some Belgian, Swiss, and German researchers, not all of that impact is negative.
Satellite internet constellations such as Starlink have the potential to make connect nearly the entire world. Starlink already provides internet access to remote areas long excluded by the internet revolution, and other projects such as OneWeb and Project Kuiper are in the works. But there are side effects to creating a massive array of low-orbit satellites, and one of them is the potentially serious effect on astronomy.
Concern over global light pollution is growing. Astronomers are noticing its growing effect on astronomical observations, just as predicted in prior decades. Our artificial light, much of which is not strictly necessary, is interfering with our science.
But there’s more than just scientific progress at stake. Can humanity afford to block out the opportunities for wonder, awe, and contemplation that the night sky provides?
A citizen science initiative called Globe at Night has some sobering news for humanity. Our artificial light is drowning out the night sky for more and more people. And it’s happening more rapidly than thought.
In a recent study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, an international team of researchers examined the levels of light pollution at astronomical observatories from around the world to better understand how artificial light is impacting night sky observations in hopes of taking steps to reduce it. But how important is it to preserve the scientific productivity of astronomical observatories from the dangers of light pollution, as noted in the study’s opening statement?
After months of waiting, we’re getting our first good looks at a fully deployed BlueWalker-3.
A new high-profile satellite may now be visible in a sky over you. We recently wrote about AST Space Mobile’s new BlueWalker-3 satellite, and its potential to be among the brightest objects in the night sky. Launched on September 10th, 2022 an a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket along with the Starlink Group 4-2 batch, BlueWalker-3 is the first of the company’s planned mega-constellation of 110 BlueBird satellites set to be deployed by the end of 2024 for worldwide communication.
There’s no question that light pollution is a growing problem. Thankfully many scientists and advocates are working for change. And you can be a part of that change with a simple app that you can download to catalog the street lights in your neighborhood.
The night sky is a part of humanity’s natural heritage. Gazing up at the heavens is a unifying act, performed by almost every human that’s ever lived. Haven’t you looked up at the night sky and felt it ignite your sense of wonder?
But you can’t see much night sky in a modern city. And the majority of humans live in cities now. How can we regain our heritage? Can quiet contemplation make a comeback?
Ah, the majestic dung beetle. The pinnacle of evolution. In all seriousness, these little critters are incredibly sophisticated navigators who have, for millennia, used the night sky to guide them about their business. But light pollution is making their lives more difficult by limiting their ability to navigate by the stars. Other nocturnal creatures, including some birds and moths, may be facing similar challenges.