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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Bright artificial satellites hinder Earth-based observations of space

The BlueWalker 3 Satellite has become one of the brightest objects in the night sky.

BlueWalker 3 Satellite
BlueWalker 3 Satellite

This added to the  ongoing concerns about the increasing challenges that ground-based astronomy faced as more bright satellites were launched into low Earth orbits.

According to observations published in Nature on Tuesday, October 3, 2023, BlueWalker 3, a prototype communications satellite, was launched on Sept. 10, 2022.

It has a 64.3-m2 array, which represented a large surface area for reflecting sunlight.

When fully deployed, the 8×8 meter satellite shines at the same intensity as Procyon, the eighth-brightest star in the night sky.

According to the research by the University of Canterbury and the University of Auckland, which also included observations from Mt. John Observatory in New Zealand has said.

BlueWalker 3, developed by AST SpaceMobile in the U.S., also periodically became hundreds of times brighter than international recommendations.

The study authors said these bright spots could hinder astronomers’ efforts to monitor space from Earth.

However, artificial satellites orbiting the Earth can appear as bright objects, as they reflect sunlight.

Although satellite operators, astronomers and other users of the night sky were working on brightness mitigation strategies, the increasing number of satellites may impede efforts to perform Earth-based observations of space, the authors said.

To determine the effect of BlueWalker 3, an international observing campaign was conducted using both amateur and professional observations made from Chile, the U.S., Mexico, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Morocco.

The authors, however, recommended that the critical evaluation of the effect of satellites on the space and Earth environments should be a part of launching authorisation processes.

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