Starlink Satellites are Stifling the Best Chance to Find Planet 9

Starlink Satellites are Stifling the Best Chance to Find Planet 9

Starlink Satellites are Stifling the Best Chance to Find Planet 9
Image Credits: Summarizer

The discoveries anticipated from Rubin Observatory could be affected by the internet constellation of Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites.

Astronomers believe that a new telescope (at the Rubin Observatory in Chile) CAN get a glimpse of the ‘Planet 9’. It is predicted that this hypothetical world is present somewhere in the outskirts of our Solar System.

A lot is expected from this powerful telescope, and scientists hope that it will solve many of the universe’s mysteries. However, the Starlink Satellites of SpaceX can prove extremely problematic for this telescope. The light given off by these satellites can distort thousands of images that the telescope will take once it’s operational. Tony Tyson, the Chief Scientist of Rubin Observatory, referred to this by saying,

“The astronomy community was not prepared for this, and certainly not funded for it.”

What are Starlink Satellites?

Starlink is a satellite-based internet constellation. These internet-beaming satellites are going into space to fulfill one of Elon Musk’s major dreams. He wants to connect billions of people (through high-speed broadband), who lack reliable internet service. For this purpose, SpaceX has launched more than 400 satellites into low-Earth orbit since January.

This is just the beginning as the company wants to swarm more than 40,000 Starlink satellites. This figure is five times the number of satellites that have been launched since the dawn of spaceflight.

Internet from Space

This concept of building an internet constellation is NOT new. Many companies have tried to beam cheap internet from space, but all of them faced expensive disappointment. For instance, a company called Teledesic (backed by Bill Gates) tried several times to achieve this feat in the 1990s.

All their ventures became so expensive that the authorities were forced to bail out after undergoing bankruptcy. Similarly, Iridium (IRDM) and Globalstar (GSAT) had to scale back their constellation. Both these companies saved themselves by selling expensive data services to satellite phone operators.

Despite these examples, it could be possible to extract the internet from space due to the advancement in space technology. This is the reason why SpaceX is NOT the only company investing in this domain. Massive companies, like Amazon, are also planning to build their satellite-based internet constellations.

Impact of Starlink Satellites on Astronomy

Most of the professional astronomers are NOT happy with the idea of launching satellites in Earth’s orbit. The light from these satellites is having an adverse effect on their observations. Therefore, it was quite understandable when they made several complaints about that on social media.

In the beginning, Elon Musk was very defensive of his Starlink satellites and claimed that they won’t hamper astronomical observations. However, it wasn’t true because these satellites are quite large and bright. Consequently, SpaceX started working closely with the astronomy community to reduce the brightness of their satellites.

According to a recent blog post of SpaceX, they have developed a retractable sun visor. They believe that this will prove quite helpful in decreasing the prominence of Starlink satellites. In addition to that, the design of the satellites has been modified that allows them to tilt. Although Tyson did acknowledge the sincere efforts of SpaceX to mitigate the problems, there are still a lot of challenges.

Starlink Satellites and Rubin Observatory

In the blog post, SpaceX acknowledges that Starlink satellites are a problem for Rubin Observatory. At the same time, they expressed their desire to make future satellites as dark as possible.

The size and sensitivity of the telescope (at the Rubin Observatory) is escalating the impact of light pollution. The camera lens of this observatory is set at infinity due to which the objects in the foreground appear out-of-focus. Tyson explained that it creates an enlarged blur of light, which can increase the probability of mistakes. As a result, these satellites could pose a serious threat to the discoveries anticipated from Rubin Observatory.

7th Magnitude

Magnitude is a measure of brightness in which a higher number means a dimmer appearance. According to experts, the Starlink Satellites must be darkened to 7th magnitude to make them suitable for astronomical observations. Almost all the internet-beaming satellites that have been launched by SpaceX (until now) are much brighter.

The efficiency of newly-developed visors is currently unclear because it hasn’t been tested. Astronomers couldn’t view the test satellite with visor because many observatories are closed due to the COVID-19 situation.    

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