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Steadily increasing light pollution from artificial satellites in the night sky worldwide, and in astronomical observations

Presentation #115.09 in the session Community Science and Public Engagement in Planetary Science, Astronomy, and Solar Eclipses (Oral Presentation)

Published onOct 23, 2023
Steadily increasing light pollution from artificial satellites in the night sky worldwide, and in astronomical observations

The number of bright, reflective satellites in the night sky is increasing every week, currently dominated by the Starlink megaconstellation that now comprises well over 50% of all operational satellites. About half of Starlink satellites are naked-eye visible when sunlit, and our published simulations show that these satellites are visible worldwide within ~2 hours of sunrise or sunset, and all night long in some locations near the summer solstice. This represents a dramatic shift in the visual appearance of the night sky for everyone in the world with access to dark skies.

The effects of bright satellites on research astronomy are detrimental, and are expected to increase significantly in the near future, with multiple companies planning megaconstellations of tens to hundreds of thousands of satellites. We quantify the effects of satellite streaks in two wide-field Kuiper Belt discovery surveys, both of which use the Megacam instrument on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Maunakea: (1) the Large inclination Distant Object (LiDO) Survey (2020A-2023A) and (2) the Classical and Large-a Solar System (CLASSY) Survey (2022B-2024A). While these two surveys have been in progress, over 5,000 new satellites have been launched into Low Earth Orbit.

In this presentation, we explore how the astronomy community can approach government officials, satellite operators, and the general public to discuss the damaging effects of a large quantity of unregulated, bright satellites on the sky and environment. Such discussions need to balance the public good of increased access to internet for those who can afford it, with the protection of dark skies for science and human culture worldwide. We will also present information on current national and international efforts (such as the new IAU Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference and the AAS Committee for the Protection of Astronomy and the Space Environment), and resources for individual astronomers to conduct public outreach and raise awareness of satellite pollution within their own communities.

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