Home » SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites Pose New Interference Threat to Radio Astronomy, Study Finds

SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites Pose New Interference Threat to Radio Astronomy, Study Finds

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SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites Pose New Interference Threat to Radio Astronomy, Study Finds

Title: Astronomers discover new interference threat from SpaceX Starlink satellites

Subtitle: Satellites’ airborne electronic equipment emits low radio waves affecting radio astronomy observations

Date: [Current Date]

The astronomy community is raising concerns about the potential impact of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites on astronomical observations. While the reflective nature of these satellites has already been causing disruptions in long-exposure images, astronomers have now made an unexpected discovery – the airborne electronic equipment powering the satellites emits noise that interferes with radio astronomy observations.

The demand for low-orbit communication satellites, which promise faster network speeds and improved data transmission rates, has been surging. However, this growth has come at the expense of astronomers’ dreams, as the satellites’ presence has created the nightmare of astronomical observation. The streaks caused by the satellites in long-exposure astronomical photos have forced astronomers to employ additional algorithms to remove these unwanted artifacts, while the sunlight reflected from the low-orbiting satellites has caused increased brightness in the night sky, even in remote areas.

Recently, astronomers have uncovered a new threat posed by low-orbit satellites. On July 5, when 68 working SpaceX Starlink satellites passed by the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) in the Netherlands, astronomers detected that they emitted relatively low radio waves with frequencies ranging from 110 to 188 THz. This frequency range is significantly lower than the 10.7-12.7 GHz commonly used for satellite downlink communications.

These additional radiation emissions from satellite subsystems, although essential for fast internet services and wireless communications, may cause further interference to astronomical observations. Unlike ground equipment, there are currently no international regulations governing radiated emissions from satellite electronics, meaning SpaceX is not in violation of any laws regarding these emissions.

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Radio telescope arrays, which rely on detecting radio signals from distant space objects or faint celestial bodies like white dwarfs, are usually situated in remote locations to minimize interference from typical ground radio noise. The interference caused by the Starlink satellites’ EMI emissions remains unknown, but simulations conducted by Benjamin Winkel, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, suggest that other satellite constellations could emit similar radiation, which would accumulate with each additional satellite in the constellation.

As more satellite constellations are launched, the cumulative effect of the emitted radiation from these satellites will become more pronounced. The implications for radio astronomy, still uncertain at this point, raise concerns for the future of scientific research in this field.

It is worth noting that the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy has provided the first image source for this article.

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