Victoria Girgis/Lowell Observatory/Victor Tangermann
Bright Streaks

Scientists: SpaceX Satellites Threaten “Astronomy Itself”

"If there are lots and lots of bright moving objects in the sky, it tremendously complicates our job."

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Victoria Girgis/Lowell Observatory/Victor Tangermann

Elon Musk-led spacetech company SpaceX wants to bring broadband internet to everybody on the planet by launching tens of thousands of small “Starlink” satellites to low Earth orbit.

The Federal Communications Commission already gave SpaceX permission to operate a maximum of 30,000 of them — eight times as many satellites as are currently in orbit, according to the European Space Agency. The company is rapidly rolling the network out: yesterday, it launched 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing up the total to just 120 so far. 24 deployments are still planned to roll out global internet service by 2021.

And that has many astronomers worried, The New York Times reports. Not only could the satellites interfere with radio wavelengths of sensitive equipment used by astronomers, but they’re already proving to be brighter than expected.

Thousands of extremely bright satellites could make it look “as if the whole sky is crawling with stars,” Smith College astronomer James Lowenthal told the Times. Worse, they could end up interfering with dark sky surveys and large telescopes.

“If there are lots and lots of bright moving objects in the sky, it tremendously complicates our job,” Lowenthal told the Times. “It potentially threatens the science of astronomy itself.”

Chief scientist Anthony Tyson from the University of California, Davis, also argued that photobombing satellites could cause survey telescopes to pick up bright streaks of light.

“It’s really a mess,” Tyson said.

It’s not the first time SpaceX’s controversial project has received criticism from scientists. Earlier this year, Scientific American reported that Starlink could end up causing “cascades of space junk.”

In June, the International Astronomical Union, made up of more than 12,000 astronomy professionals, called for the regulation of SpaceX’s Starlink initiative, arguing that it could interfere with space exploration efforts.

READ MORE: As SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Satellites, Scientists See Threat to ‘Astronomy Itself’

More on Starlink: Watch SpaceX Launch 60 Starlink Satellites

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