Light pollution from satellites, space debris poses a risk to astronomy, Science News

Artificial satellites and space debris orbiting the earth can make the night sky brighter, researchers have found, warning that light pollution from them could interfere with astronomers’ work in studying the universe.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said there are more than 9,200 tons of space objects in orbit, including defunct satellites, reports The Guardian.

Such objects are not only susceptible to light pollution, they also pose a risk of collision.

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Scientists in the Royal Astronomical Society’s monthly bulletins describe how sunlight reflected and scattered by space objects can look like streaks in observations made by telescopes from the ground.

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“Since the stripes are often comparable to or lighter than objects of astrophysical interest, their presence tends to affect the astronomical data and carry the risk of irrecoverable loss of information,” the researchers wrote.

They also said, “When observed with relatively low sensitivity detectors such as the naked human eye or with low angular resolution photometers, their combined effect is that of a diffuse brightness component of the night sky, much like the unresolved integrated starlight background of the Milky Way.”

According to their calculations, the glow could increase up to 10 percent of the natural sky brightness, a level of light pollution previously set by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as the limit acceptable in astronomical observation regions.

Although the scientists emphasize that natural brightness levels have their own challenges, they said the current situation could worsen as more satellites, including “mega-constellations”, are launched.

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