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Scientists warn that a giant new communications satellite, eclipsing nearly all the stars in the night sky, is blocking telescopes’ views of the universe.
The massive orbiting “cell phone tower” known as BlueWalker 3 creates interference, both visible and invisible, that “could severely hinder progress in our understanding of the cosmos”. International Astronomical Union (opens in new tab) (IAU) said in a statement.
BlueWalker 3 is a prototype antenna designed and manufactured by Texas-based communications company AST Space Mobile. The satellite entered low-Earth orbit on September 10 and opened its massive communications array on November 14, Live Science’s sister site. space.com reported. The mirror-like dish has a surface area of about 693 square feet (64 square meters), making it the largest commercial communications array ever launched into orbit.
However, BlueWalker 3 has one glaring problem: The IAU’s Center for Conservation of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference (CPS) said in a statement that the satellite’s massive dish reflects large amounts of sunlight back to the Earth’s surface. Astronomers have released a series of time-lapse photos taken by observatories around the world, showing the satellite photobombing the night sky, appearing as a continuous bright white line across the sky.
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“This satellite has become one of the brightest objects in the night sky,” IAU representatives wrote in a statement, “more than any other constellation satellite, and sometimes as bright as some of the most recognizable stars.”
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And the super-sized satellite isn’t just blocking telescopes’ optical views of the universe. The IAU also warns that cell phone signals emitted by communications satellites can also cause significant interference to radio telescopes.
“These orbiting transmitters, which are not subject to the same radio silent zone restrictions as ground-based cellular networks, have the potential to seriously affect radio astronomy research,” IAU representatives said.
BlueWalker 3 is the latest flashpoint in an ongoing debate about astronomical interference caused by communications satellites, which began with SpaceX launching its first satellite. star connection (There are currently more than 2,000 Starlink satellites orbiting our planet, and this number could rise to 12,000 in the coming years). But the enormous size of BlueWalker 3 could be a major turning point in the debate.
“BlueWalker 3 is a big change to the constellation moon and should give us every reason to pause.” Piero Benvenuti (opens in new tab)The director of the IAU CPS said in the statement.
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A single BlueWalker 3 satellite in orbit may only be a bit of a nuisance to astronomers at the moment, but AST plans to launch a fleet of “more than 100 similar and even larger satellites” in the future as it attempts to establish a worldwide mobile network, the IAU. representatives wrote. This could make it nearly impossible for astronomers to avoid the photo-bomb glare of satellites.
IAU representatives wrote that the astronomy community acknowledges that commercial satellites will play an important role in improving global communications systems, but argues that their deployment “should be driven by consideration of their side-effects and with efforts to minimize their impact on astronomy.”
The IAU’s warning comes after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a proposal on November 3 to establish the “Office of Space and International Affairs” to help address emerging issues with major satellite constellations in the U.S. and globally. came. , by IAU (opens in new tab).