Astronomers are increasingly concerned about the future of the night sky as new images show shocking trails left by a massive communications satellite against otherwise clear, dark patches of sky.
In September, AST SpaceMobile launched the first satellite of a new constellation into orbit, paving the way for a system of cell phone towers in space. This prototype, known as BlueWalker 3, carries the largest antenna of any commercial communications satellite to date — and it’s now one of the brightest things in the sky, outshining even some of the most famous stars. A committee of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the international governing body of astronomy, has denounced the launch, warning of the dangers posed by this satellite and its successors.
“BlueWalker 3 is a big shift in the constellation satellite issue and should give us all reason to pause,” Piero Benvenuti, an astrophysicist at the University of Padova in Italy and an IAU representative, said in the statement.
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There are two main threats of bright satellite constellations like BlueWalker 3. Advocates like the IAU are concerned about the loss to “humanity’s ability to experience the natural night sky” as officials wrote in the statement.
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And astronomers are particularly concerned about how these streaks across the sky will impact their research observations. BlueWalker 3 isn’t the first bright satellite to launch, joining thousands of SpaceX Starlink satellites that can interfere with observations in visible light. But the new beacon also emits strong radio waves, potentially affecting radio astronomy as well.
Although these projects may improve cell and internet access across the globe, the IAU urges everyone — particularly the companies launching such satellites and the regulatory Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — to consider the collateral damage to the night sky. AST SpaceMobile is already in talks with IAU representatives about the issue, according to the statement