In DepthAstronomy

Satellite megaconstellations menace giant survey telescope

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Science  28 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6481, pp. 965
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6481.965

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Summary

Starting in 2022, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory will survey the entire night sky every few nights from a mountaintop in Chile, using an 8.4-meter mirror to capture faint, fast-changing objects. But something much more mundane is likely to streak into view: thousands of low-flying communications satellites glinting in the Sun. The threat, evident ever since rocket company SpaceX launched its first batch of 60 Starlink satellites in May 2019, has come into sharper focus—as has a potential way to limit the damage. Unpublished studies, some seen by Science, suggest satellite trails could ruin about one-third of the images from the Rubin Observatory during parts of the night. Observatory staff say the problem cannot be avoided with software tweaks or shrewd telescope pointing. The best remedy seems to be to darken the satellites themselves, something SpaceX and the Rubin Observatory are already exploring.

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