There may soon be more satellites than stars in the night sky, which is why astronomers are determined to battle light pollution, which makes it increasingly difficult to observe galaxies and planets. They do it by taking the field with four articles published in the journal Nature Astronomy, in which they launch an SOS in defense of the dark sky.
Soon there could be more satellites than stars in the night sky, says to ANSA Fabio Falchi, of the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute (Istil) of Thiene (Vicenza) and of the Spanish University of Santiago di Compostela, author of one of the studies that launch the appeal in defense of astronomical observations. The other articles are by Miroslav Kocifaj of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, John Barentine of the company Dark Sky Consulting LLC and Aparna Venkatesan of the University of San Francisco (Usfca).
“The satellite mega-constellations that populate low Earth orbit are launched without any preventive environmental impact checks: they simply present us with a fait accompli without giving us the opportunity to do anything”, observes Falchi, who is also president of dell’ CieloBuio association for the protection of the night sky and professor at the ‘Enrico Fermi’ Institute in Mantua.
The appeal argues that the problems in combating light and space pollution are socio-political, not technological, and that binding limits should be introduced: “The interests behind the satellite networks that offer Internet access in every part of the globe are also of a military nature,” says Falchi. “After the United States has completed its constellations, other countries such as Russia or China will also try to create their own – adds the Italian researcher – so the escalation will be inevitable”.
According to the researchers, there are very few places on Earth that still meet the criteria (no light pollution, a high number of clear nights, and good visibility) for a telescope. These include the Andes and the highlands of Tibet, while other sites, such as Chile, the Canary Islands and Hawaii, are already becoming more polluted from the point of view of astronomical observations. “We must protect these places at all costs”, comments Fabio Falchi. “In this, technology can be our ally: for example, with automatic systems that turn on the lights only when they are actually needed – explains the researcher – systems that unfortunately are hardly used anywhere”.
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