Protecting dark and quiet skies from satellite constellation interference

Starlink satellites pass overhead near Carson National Forest, New Mexico. It was taken immediately after the launch. Credit: M.Lewinsky

If you’ve ever tried to see a star in a residential or urban area, even streetlights and the light of nearby towns can severely impede your ability to identify rare comets and other celestial bodies by identifying the triplets of Orion. You know that there is. But even more disappointing to us is the turmoil in space for scientists and others in the space industry.

To maintain this important property of the universe, a new International Astronomical Union Center has been established to protect the dark sky from satellite constellation interference.

Siegfried Egle, a faculty member of the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Robert Glendor of the University of Illinois’ Faculty of Astronomy were selected to participate. They are both members of the Astrophysical Research Center at UIUC’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

“With the advent of more affordable launch options, large-scale commercial use of space has become a reality,” Egle said. “As with many ambitious projects, increasing the presence of tens of thousands of satellites in low earth orbit presents challenges. For example, sunlight reflected by the solar sail makes satellites visually bright. These satellites can be brighter than most stars in the sky, and because they move at high speeds, they pose a major challenge to terrestrial astronomy, but also to wildlife that relies on the starry sky to navigate. It may affect you. “

Eggl said the purpose of the new center is to bring together all stakeholders and find a working solution to minimize the potential negative impact of so-called “mega constellations”. ..

“UIUC is one of the major contributors to the new center, which gives us the international community to create links between the aerospace industry, astronomers, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders. It speaks of the trust we have. “

According to Eggl, the center is primarily focused on being a forum for stakeholder interaction. This is a safe place where concerns are heard and practical solutions are devised in a collaborative spirit.

Protecting dark and quiet skies from satellite constellation interference

The bright trajectory left by the SpaceX Starlink satellite can be seen in the wide-field image captured by the Cerro Tololo InterAmerican Observatory in Chile. Credits: CTIO / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / DECam DELVE Survey

“Of course, there are reports and recommendations to agencies around the world, but police must be done by regulatory agencies.”

Eggl’s role is to coordinate UIUC’s efforts towards the center to better understand the impact of satellite megaconstellation on large-scale astronomical surveys such as future spatial and temporal legacy surveys at Vera C. Rubin Observatory. Is to develop software that will help you.

“In particular, we will study how constellations affect our ability to discover potentially dangerous asteroids and work with the aerospace industry to mitigate potential adverse effects as much as possible,” Egle said. Said.

Gruendl is a production scientist for the NCSA’s Dark Energy Survey.

“This astronomical Research It ended just as the satellite constellation began to grow in earnest, “Gruendl said.

lo Chile’s Intercontinental Observatory. You can monitor the impact using the infrastructure developed for the Dark Energy Survey. Hygiene The constellations grow and test strategies to mitigate their effects. “

The center was officially announced on February 3, 2022 by the International Astronomical Union, the National Institute of Optical Infrared Astronomy of the National Science Foundation, and the SKAO Observatory.

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Provided by Grainger Institute of Technology, University of Illinois

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